Spring Garden Chores 26th April 18

SUSAN’S GARDEN—The weekends mild temperatures gave me the incentive to finish raking all the remaining leaves from my garden beds. I loosened hard-packed mulch while I was at it so the promised rain could penetrate the soil easier. I’m taking no chances this year, and I’m starting to prune my boxwood now so I don’t get those brown tips next winter because they haven’t hardened off enough before the cold temperatures set in. Tiny blisters on the leaves mean I have leaf miners, so I’m using a systemic insecticide so the plants can defend themselves with no spraying of the leaves and flowers. I’m also going to use this on a birch that always gets attacked by aphids and my hemlocks that have woolly adelgid. These aren’t my favorite chores and I tend to put them off until its too late to be effective, so if you have these issues, now is the time for treatment.IMG_1150
One of my very tall upright junipers came down when we had that heavy snow storm. Luckily, the ‘Tina’ crab it fell on wasn’t damaged. After digging a sadly small root ball, we were able to drag it down the woods and replant it. I had to prune the stems back by half just to lighten the weight of the tree, but also I had the hope of making it less top heavy. We tied it to three other trees and even added three more ground stakes, but that tree refuses to remain upright. It withstood heavy winds, only to fall on a still day. I hate to give up on it when I see the branches covered with silvery berries. Maybe we’ll try one more time. gardeners are nothing if not determined.

18th April 2018…Snow!

SUSAN’S GARDEN—It’s hard to believe we’re past the middle of April and I’m as bundled up as if it were January. I started early, raking out the garden beds, but high winds tossed oak and maple leaves right back in. The deer were very persistent this year, and I had to make sure deer netting and wire cages were still in place by the next morning. Spraying kept them from eating plants but not from walking through the gardens and finding plants I missed like thyme and fragrant geranium, of all things.

Winter landscape in England


I’m just beginning to see the little nubs of peonies poking up and sedum are finally showing some growth. I did prune all my coral bells to their woody stems and tiny ruffled leaves are unfurling. I’m going to apply grub killer to prevent the weevil grubs from decimating the roots, hopefully this weekend. The hydrangea have all been pruned back quite hard this year, so I get bushier plants. Don’t prune varieties that bloom on old wood. Wait until you see new leaves and then just trim off the dead tips. Anything more and you may prune off this years flowers.
Despite dividing several clumps of hellebore last year, most have bloomed anyway, and others are simply fantastic. The snow and rain doesn’t keep them down long, and their flower heads pick up quickly. I’ve tried to keep each color in separate drifts, but an occasional seedling comes up in a different color. Last years ‘Sandy Shore’ that we carried in the garden center last year, is a real beauty with an almost coral cast to its daily changing coloration. The double black hellebore are very striking, but I moved lighter mauve and berry-toned varieties with them to stand out against the inky shades. If you haven’t cut off last years leaves, you should do it now so they don’t detract from the beauty of the flowers.

Even though it doesn’


Alternatives to boxwood?

t feel like spring yet, the chores are piling up, so don’t procrastinate too long or you’re going to feel really overwhelmed. So get out there and prune what needs to be pruned, rake all the leaves up off your lawn and out from under shrubs and off perennials, especially. And enjoy the return of the birds. Hopefully it means the weasel has moved on.(This paragraph is really a pep talk for myself so I’m not tempted to remain inside and ride out what I’m calling ‘A Second Winter)


It’s that time of year when I have to tackle the problem of the invasives. Perhaps a wall would work. No, that’s just ridiculous. Last year’s attempt to eradicate bishops weed by meticulously digging it up and removing the stringy roots, only resulted in it multiplying tenfold.  It’s now growing among a planting of Carex ‘Ice Dance’, dwarf hosta, and autumn blooming heuchera,  which

Astilbe are great for wet places

Campanula come in all shapes and sizes. Some can be pretty invasive!

was exactly what I was hoping to avoid. Cutting it back and then spraying the new growth with and herbicide seems the best way to go. I’ll cover all the desirable plants with nursery pots so they don’t get sprayed.

It’s easy to forget how invasive Campanula ‘Elizabeth’ is when it blooms with its large upside-down mauve speckled bells, but I’ve been aggressively weeding it out of one of my beds for several years, and have been able to successively knock it back to just a couple of stems by this method.

The tiny sedum murale can’t really be described as invasive, but it has propagated itself so well in my gravel pathways, that I no longer have gravel pathways. It pulls up fairly easily, but I’ll see if it pops right back up again from its tiny hair-like roots.

Corydalis lutea i

s the number one requested plant that customers see in the garden center. It’s one of the longest blooming plants, and so is one of the most prolific. Lacy little seedlings will sprout up every where if I allow it and big billowy mounds of it spring from underneath stone edging. Its gotten to the point where its filling in my paths. The succulent stems are easy to pull out and I know new seedlings are days away from reappearing.

Summer Preparation

Daylily season will soon be starting!

I had to tackle a hellebore bed off my back porch. They had reseeded and were getting too congested. Some hellebore become rather tall, and at eighteen inches, was rapidly smothering an english boxwood and nearby lungworts. If you’ve ever dug up a patch of hellebores, you can see why they’re drought tolerant. The roots are very fibrous and deep. Underneath was hundreds of 3″ seedlings. I’ve transplanted the whole lot to one of the woodland gardens, where it will form a dense evergreen cover. I don’t want or need anymore new plants, so I cut all the stems off before they go to seed.
Now is a good time to pinch back any perennials that flop over. In my garden, I’m pinching back sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, phlox ‘David’, the towering rudbeckia ‘Henry Eilers’ and helianthuis. They will be much fuller at the base and may bloom later than usual, but I’m okay with that. The variegated Japanese grass always collapses mid-summer, so I’m going to cut it back to the ground in a few weeks. It will shoot up shorter and fuller.

June is for flowers

Red Charm Peony.. best red?

June is the time for big flowers. Peonies, roses, clematis, wisteria. There’s nothing shy about these bloomers. The ‘Queen Alexandra’ poppies are blooming out of sync with a’Diabolo’ physocarpus. Its a beautiful combination but just once have they bloomed together. So much for careful planning.

   One combination that is going as planned are the rugosa roses planted with ‘Rose Sensation’ salvia and a dark-leaved heuchera is in the front. Echinops silvery grey leaves make a beautiful contrast for the fuschia-purple roses and will begin later. Pairing plants in successful combinations can be difficult, but I think its one of the creative parts of gardening.
   Just when I was feeling smug about having a weedless garden, the rains came and suddenly weeds are up to my knees. Jewel weed with its brittle stems is easy to pull up, but when will they stop returning? Clover is the worst since its low to the ground and its sometimes bronzy leaves are difficult to see. Ash tree seedlings are coming up but are easy to pull out when they’re small. A very pretty silvery ferny weed that comes up in my gravel is pretty enough to use as a groundcover and is commonly known as cudweed, catfoot, or rabbit tobacco. Catchweed or bedstraw has tiny sticky seeds that get tangled in my dogs fur and has to be eradicated as soon as I spot it in my woodland garden.

Weigelas are brilliant!

Peonies are in full flower

There isn’t a weigela I don’t like, and my gardens are full of them. They’re easy to grow, will take a little shade and come in a range of sizes and leaf colors. An unusual lime green variety bloomed in my woodland garden about a month ago, and now the low-growing variegated ‘My Monet’ has begun along with a very large reddish-pink old variety that an aunt gave me when we first moved into our home. She rooted several up just by taking cuttings and pushing them into pots of soil. The flowers are the perfect shape for early arriving hummingbirds and bees. I planted one of the re-blooming Sonic Bloom varieties last summer, and I’m curious to see how its going to perform this year. The larger variegated forms are placed more for their foliage rather than their flowers. They brighten up any mixed planting and look fantastic with darker shrubs like smokebush and physocarpus.

   Pulmonaria is getting a little leggy and I’ll cut these back as soon as they finish blooming. This will create a nice compact shape. Candytuft is finished blooming as well and I cut it back hard or it will take over my rock garden.
   My rock gardens needed attention as well. I remove any leaves that have gotten stuck under plants and lift up any stones that have sunk too much. If the hen and chicks look too spacey, just slip a trowel underneath, loosening the soil, and lift the up. Replant them closer together. A new top dressing of fresh gravel makes everything look neater.

19th May 2017 Free Plants

Susan’s Garden—I’m ridiculously pleased when plants reseed themselves in unexpected places. Gravel pathways are the easiest way to propagate plantswithout lifting a finger. I’ve found tiny cedar trees, physocarpus, butterfly bushes, geraniums, coneflowers, penstemon, and columbine all in less than three feet of pathway. If I pull them up early enough, I’ll get the whole root system very easily. Ajuga’Chocolate Chip’, phlox, and thyme can be pulled up in sheets and transplanted around the garden.  

   I’ve been spraying my columbine with systemic insect spray to kill the little green caterpillar that strips the leaves off leaving just stems and buds. You have to spray every plant including the seedlings, or else they’ll be stripped overnight. If you have aphids on your birch trees, consider using a systemic soak.

   Its easy to see dead stems on shrubs like hydrangea now that the leaves have started, so just prune off the tips or prune lightly to shape. Every few years, spirea and barberry can use a hard prune. It will rejuvenate them and allow you to remove the dead

5th May 2017 Cloudy Skies


I’m taking advantage of the cooler temperatures and cloudy skies, to translant over-crowded beds and divide some of the perennials. When hostas heaves are still rolled up tight, its easy to cut them into nice chunks. Once the leaves get larger, it becomes more difficult to avoid breaking the leaves. I don’t like to divide spring blooming plants now like hellebore, pulmonaria and brunnera, but summer-blooming plants like phlox, helenium and rudbeckias will still flower with barely a hitch in growth if they’re divided now.
   If you have the room, shrub borders can provide you with a continuous supply of flowers. Witch hazel and cornus maas are much more subtle than forsythia, but I appreciate the flowers more. Lilacs, kerria, fothergilla, quince, earlier-blooming viburnum, and azaleas are blooming now. Mock orange, rhododendrons, later-blooming lilacs and viburnums, and physocarpus will start flowering next. Weigela, spirea, and potentilla are easy summer shrubs and rose-of-sharon and hydrangea will take you into late summer. Personally, I couldn’t have a garden with at least one of each of these shrubs.

What a difference a month makes!

What a difference a month makes!  All my plantings have evergreens in them, junipers, boxwod, holly, or spruce, but until the perennials and shrubs fill out, the garden can still look pretty bleak. Drifts of evergreen perennials like ginger, lamium, ajuga, hellebores, and geraniums add even more color and texture as their new leaves continue to sprout. Epimediums old leaves and stems were cut back a few weeks ago and the tiny orchid-like flowers are filling out nicely. This is a great plant for dry shade and can be a slow bit slow at first to spread, but its worth the wait. 

   My dog is doing her best to keep the frogs corralled in the pond, perhaps a little to zealously at times. One frog has only one eye and though I hate to blame my sweet gardening friend, I have to constantly remind her ‘No teeth’!

   Mustard weed is already nearly a foot high and cleverly hides itself at the base of plants. Remove them as soon as possible before they go to seed. Bittercress is another weed that you don’t want to delay eradicating. Its seeds ripen very quickly and shoot quite a distance. This weed has tiny white flowers and is only about 6 or 8 inches high.

   I’ve barely raked the last of the pin oak leaves out of the garden beds, when last years beech leaves are starting to fall. These are two trees to place far away from mixed beds.

Susan’s Garden 22nd April 2017

It’s amazing how fast everything’s growing! A garden maybe empty in the morning, but go by again mid-afternoon, and  ligularias black ruffled leaves are suddenly up and unfurling, primulas yellow buds are opening, and the spiky closed leaves of brunnera expand to show slivers of silver. Spirea and barberry tiny leaves are a haze of soft gold, lime green and vibrant orange. Ajugas dead mass of leaves is suddenly showing shiny new growth. You have to look closely for leaves on the viburnum . They remain closed and are the same color as the stem bark. But the lilacs already have buds forming. Please no late frosts!

You have to work quickly, but there’s still time to prune your smoke bushes back if you don’t mind losing the puffs of smoke in favor of larger, richer colored leaves. Trim last years flower heads off rose-of-sharon and hydrangea. If you have ‘Annabelle, which has a suckering habit, you can trim just the top off for a taller plant, or cut it back nearly to the ground for a lower plant. If it’s a shrub form, prune off the dead wood to a bud and prune to shape.

Remove last year’s leaves are soon as possible. They can be smothering perennials and keeping too much moisture around plants particularly sedums.