It’s that time of year again, and there are some interesting winners as well as two brand-new award categories added to this second instalment of my personal garden awards. So, let’s get the show on the road!
The Smiley (for surprising success)
This ended in a tie between Daphne x transatlantica ‘Eternal Fragrance’ and Edgeworthia chrysantha ‘Snow Cream’.
Daphne ‘Eternal Fragrance’, a little mite of a thing after being planted in mid-April.
This photo was taken this week, and yes there even are a few flowers! Simply astonishing progress in only six months. I had read that daphnes like to be planted when quite small, and will ‘catch up’. I didn’t really believe it. Now, I do.
Given that my other Edgeworthia died over its first winter, my fingers were always crossed for this one which is in a site that these are not supposed to like. This photo shows it in early April, caged against the ravenous rabbits.
Here’s the same plant this week (still rabbit caged, because I am taking no chances.) It’s happy. I’m happy. I will be even happier if it blooms in late winter next year, as it’s supposed to, instead of in mid to late April as it did this year. (Yes, I need to weed.)
Runner-up: I ordered twenty Dicentra ‘Pink Diamonds’ when Bluestone put them on sale, because I wanted them for a bed that gets strong afternoon sun and this cultivar is supposed to be sun-tolerant. Seventeen of them (all teensy-weensy wimpy bits; very disappointing) went into the bed as originally planned, where they would get morning shade and afternoon sun. The remaining three little-bitsies went into the Driveway Bed as an experiment that I did not really expect would be successful: The ‘soil’ there is 75% rocks and pebbles, and it bakes in full sun the entire day with no supplemental irrigation. It’s basically a hellstrip. I assumed that this trio of sacrificial lambs would struggle mightily, if not outright expire. They shocked me by taking off like rockets and have been flowering for almost three months, thereby earning their runner-up Smiley. What about the 17 in the other bed, you ask? Don’t they get one also? Nope, because they all quickly shriveled up and disappeared during the first heat wave. Will those emerge next spring? Who knows? But if they do, guess what? I will be moving them to the Driveway Bed!
The Frownie (for distinct disappointment)
Last year was my Great Cyclamen Experiment – first time in any of my gardens – and what went into the ground were 40 Cyclamen hederifolium and 20 Cyclamen hederifolium v. album. I divided the order between several planting areas so that I could evaluate which area suited them best: under the east-facing skirts of Coniferus Rex; around the trunk of a weeping cherry which gets filtered sun all day even after leafing out; around the trunk of Marla Maple (full sun in winter, full dry shade all summer); in the Driveway Bed on a northeast-facing slight slope and gravelly soil; and in the east-facing front portico beds. Not even ONE of them ever came up. At all. Anywhere. I could understand it if they failed in some locations, but in all? Seriously? Okay, cyclamen, you’re dead to me. (Literally.)
The Florence Nightingale Award (most dramatic recovery)
In late 2020, High Country Gardens was running a summer sale and I decided to take a flyer on Clematis hexapetala ‘Mongolian Snowflakes’ which was marked down to only $7 in a supposedly-four-inch pot. What arrived was a spindly single-stem cutting less than two inches high, with a few thin strands of roots that had been stuck into in a 2.5” pot of mix. I sighed, tucked it into the Clover Trunk Bed next to the oak stump that I had planned on it covering (not likely), wished it good luck, and fully expected it to die over the 2020-2021 winter.
It didn’t die, but it didn’t do anything else either. It just… sat there, putting on no growth, feeling sorry for itself. So, I decided to replace it with its more vigorous cousin ‘Midnight Masquerade’ in June of last year. But what to do with the ‘Mongolian Snowflakes’ that I’d just pulled (all too easily) out of that spot? Feeling lazy, I popped it into the middle of another oak stump that I’d filled with potting soil in 2020 and had stuck a black sweet potato vine (now gone) into. And again expected it to die over the 2021-2022 winter.
It not only didn’t die, but tripled in size (as seen here in May) and actually flowered on a couple of those stems this July. This is after the soil inside that stump must have frozen solid several times during last winter, mind you. Maybe there’s something to that Mongolian cultivar name after all. (Midnight Masquerade is doing extremely well in the exact same spot that Mongo hated, by the way.)
The Trumpie (for ongoing aggravation)
I’ve always read that daphnes have a reputation for dying ‘just because’, but – because I’ve grown various daphnes in previous gardens and never had one die on me – I was skeptical. This year, I received my comeuppance from the Daphne genkwa ‘Hackenberry’ that I planted as a #2 size in May 2020. It was smothered in flowers in late April 2021 and also this year. People walking their dogs would stop to ask me what it was. (Hint: Pride goeth before a fall.)
In June, I noticed that all the foliage on one of the lowest branches had turned completely yellow, then tan and dry. Hm, that is odd, I thought. Trimmed it off. Two weeks later the same thing happened to another lower branch. Well, okay, we are having a really hot and dry summer, so perhaps that’s why. But why was it only happening branch-by-branch rather than evenly over the entire shrub? Every time I looked at the shrub, I saw a newly yellowed branch. The plant was taunting me: “Can’t figure out what’s wrong, can you? Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah!” or “Hey, I’m a daphne –this is how we roll!” And of course it’s going to make me wait until next April to find out what it decides to do and how much additional angst it will cause. Definitely a perfect fit for The Trumpie.
The Bezie/Arnie* Budget-Buster Award
(* formerly known as the Bezie/Muskie Award. In view of Elon’s recent antics he has been booted from the award name as well as the world’s top Money Man spot.)
We all know conifers are expensive; this is one reason why gardeners who aren’t either of the people that this award is named after, usually have to start off small. When I finally settled on a ‘structural’ blue conifer for the Driveway Bed, my decision alighted on Cedrus atlantica ‘Cheltenham’ which doesn’t get ginormous and can be trained into a graceful open weeping shape. Conifer Kingdom was the only nursery selling it, at $65 for a “one gallon size.”
This is Conifer Kingdom’s interpretation of a 1-gallon-size plant. It is about 10 inches tall, staked. Yes, it was in a 1-gallon (more or less) pot, that was true. It was also true that the root system was about three inches long and one inch wide. Barely. I can honestly say that I have never paid so much for such a small woody plant, conifer or not. It had better ultimately be worth it!
Runner-up: The runner-up is also the most I have ever paid, per plant, for a perennial (although Glaucidium palmatum came close, two years ago). It is Epimedium x ‘Totnes Turbo’ which is kind of like E. x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’ on steroids but it’s actually latisepalum x pinnatum subsp. colchicum. Only one USA nursery is (was; they sold out quickly) selling it, at $40 per plant. I gulped, and bought two. Crazy, I know. At that price, they had darn well better turn out to be the Arnold Schwarzenegger of their genus.
And the new award categories are:
The Lawrence of Arabia Award (for the perennial least affected by extreme heat and drought)
How hot and dry was it? Well, this is a photo of an east-facing bed that has a solid fence behind it and a large Cornus florida in the center, as well as two large rhododendrons. It gets sun only in the morning and is completely shaded after 11 a.m. The previous owners filled it with tough customers: pachysandra, a fernleaf dicentra that is probably ‘Luxuriant’, a hosta, and a couple of orange daylilies that I keep trying to dig out but can’t because of the dogwood and rhody roots. Some thuggish variegated lamium have found their way in also, which I keep evicting. Anyway, this is how it looked in early September. Fried pachysandra, anyone?
Without doubt, the Lawrence of Arabia Award goes to Geranium ‘Rozanne’ who is a newcomer to my garden. They arrived in pitiful condition in May, with barely any foliage; this photo was taken on May 12th; I’ve circled the plants so that they’ll be visible! This bed is in full sun all day except between 11 a.m. and about 12:30.
The same plants on June 7th.
Exactly two weeks later, in the middle of a heat wave which was the first of a brutal hot dry summer, during which Rozanne never missed a beat. (Neither did the clover that has taken over the backyard…)
I had to cut all the Rozanne back by 50% in mid-August in order to weed out the crabgrass and stiltgrass that had invaded the bed. This photo, which shows the center and other end of the bed as well, was taken last week. I fully expect that Rozanne will continue flowering until we get a hard frost. It has flowered non-stop for almost five months, shrugging off all the heat, drought, and humidity that the summer threw at us, and generally behaving as if it were growing in the Pacific Northwest. Or maybe Canada.
The Liz Truss Award (for the quickest exit after planting)
A pair of conifers received from Singing Tree Gardens are the undoubted winners in this new category: Two Pinus mugo ‘Blue Shag’ in supposedly-one-gallon (here we go again) pots but at least they had somewhat larger root systems than did Conifer Kingdom’s offering. They looked fine for a week. The first yellow needles began in Week Two. By the end of Week Three more than 50% of them were yellow or brown, and before the end of Week Four both pines were dead. There is no photo because although I took one after planting them, they died so quickly that I deleted the photos from my camera before even downloading them.
Runner-up: I decided to try three Centaurea ‘Amethyst in Snow’ as part of one of my early-May perennial orders. They arrived decently rooted in 3” pots, and one was in flower. Very unusual, and different from the typical blue. But with the first heat wave in June, they all disappeared like Houdini from a cage. Haven’t seen them since. So, probable lifespan here was about 45 days – just like the award namesake!
2022 Obituary Column (does not include evictions)
Chionodoxa forbesii ‘Blue Giant’ – 25 planted in fall 2019, only about 10 came up in 2020, only six last Spring, and zero this year.
Narcissus ‘Xit’ – a dozen planted in Fall 2020 made a beautiful show in Spring 2021 but never came up this spring at all (nope, not even one.) I am trying them again this fall in a different bed.
Allium caesium – I’m at a loss to explain this, because aren’t alliums supposed to be eternal or something? I mean, they are practically weeds, right? And these are such a lovely true blue (I know this from them flowering last spring). This year, nothing. Not one even broke ground. What the heck eats alliums??!?? (That said, they were right next to the disappeared Narcissus ‘Xit’…hmmmm)
Siberian iris ‘Too Cute’ – the five clumps of this dwarf (mini, really) Siberian that were planted last year did come up this spring, but the first heat wave zapped every single one. Foliage, roots, everything.
Geranium pratense ‘Purple Ghost’ – Began with three of these in 2019, from Bluestone. Very wimpy plants that never really took off. One disappeared outright before the end of the year; the second one disappeared over the 2020-21 winter, leaving just one that never came up this spring.
‘Athos’ – the least robust of the surviving three tree peony seedlings wasn’t strong enough to survive the winter. I had serious doubts last November, and so his demise was not entirely unexpected.
Erica x stuartii ‘Irish Lemon’ – Planted last summer in Patio Bed #1 in which (by early spring) it was clearly not happy, possibly because of the adjacent paved patio. Moved to the better (meaning no lime in sight) soil in the Jewel Box Bed, where it should have been much happier but died in about a month.
Rhododendron pseudochrysanthum ‘Exbury Form’ – A very small and rather rare rhody from Gossler Farms that was planted last spring and was doing fairly well (although not great) until this summer’s heat wave/drought hit, and did it in.
Pinus mugo ‘Ophir’ – This is obviously my Bad Pines year. This cultivar is supposed to turn yellow in winter, but it never got past a mild ‘golden frosting’ which was a bummer because it was described as turning “neon yellow.” It looked fine throughout the June/July/early August drought and heat, and then we got a few days of welcome rain in late August. A few days afterward, it began turning brown. The only conifer I’ve ever seen die faster than this did, was Blue Surprise. To be honest, the winter color was such a disappointment that I can’t say I shed many tears over this one.
Pinus mugo ‘Carstens Wintergold’ – Planted adjacent to Ophir at the same time, from the same source (Broken Arrow Nursery) and had spectacular winter color. Again, this year’s drought didn’t faze it but in July it began throwing up suckers from the rootstock. This did not please me. I was even less pleased when, about two weeks after Ophir began to decline, Carsten’s began to follow suit. This one, I will miss!
I so admire your tenacity. And that you do all this with a sense of humor….