Neighborly Garden News
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It’s all about fragrance…
When I was learning the elements of garden design, one interesting aspect of garden design was omitted: designing a garden based on scent. I know gardeners have their favorites, and most New England gardens have the indispensable three: Lilacs, Roses, and Lavender. But, there can be a much larger palette of fragrant plants, and one that can be developed so you can have fragrance throughout all seasons.
You can plant bulbs this fall for spring blooms in 2021. Many daffodils are very fragrant, and as a bonus are deer and rodent proof. Hyacinths, and their cousins the Muscari (so-called grape Hyacinths) have a wonderful scent too; Muscari will multiply in a sunny well-drained spot. Other spring flowering plants for fragrance should include tall Bearded Iris, Peonies, and the old fashioned ground-cover Lily-of-the-Valley.
Muscari or ‘Grape Hyacinth’
Think of scent occurring in different layers. We can plant scented plants that release aroma as you walk across them; low growing mint, creeping thyme, and creeping chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). Planting Rosemary near a walkway or sitting area, will give you a lovely whiff of scent as you brush past it. Another terrific herb for fragrance are the scented Geraniums- not a true geranium, these are Pelargonium spp., related to the more commonly grown red, pink or white flowered garden Geranium plants. Scented Pelargonium is grown for its attractive leaves that release scent when they are touched or crushed, and will produce pretty flowers.
Old Fashioned Rose Scented Geranium
Don’t limit yourself to fragrance on one level; consider the sweetness of fragrance wafting in your home through the second story windows. Fragrant trees and climbing vines can bring the scent upstairs. The Japanese tree Lilac (Syringa reticulata) has clouds of creamy-white fragrant flowers and attractive mahogany colored bark. Maturing at about 25’ tall, it blooms a bit later that the common Lilac. I have a clematis vine called ‘Betty Corning’, which has the sweetest scent. She produces bell-shaped lavender colored flowers for several months throughout the summer, starting in late June. This very hardy clematis will happily grow up a porch trellis, or up an arbor near your patio. The scent reminds me of lemonade. Clematis have a reputation of being fussy, but they aren’t really. They like to have their roots shaded, and the vining parts up in the sunshine. The solution is to plant something shorter in front of them, to provide some shade to their root zone, and give them something to climb on; ‘Betty Corning’ will grow up to 10’ tall.
Clematis ‘Betty Corning’
Many mainstays of our perennial gardens are also highly fragrant. The white flowered Hosta plantaginea produces sweetly scented spires of large tubular flowers, in late summer through early fall. Garden Phlox, (Phlox paniculata) will bloom from early summer through early fall, especially if you dead-head them in mid-summer. Garden Phlox is available in a wide range of colors, and heights, I have often left mine to self-sow around the garden, and I select the best colors to redistribute around the beds. Grow true Lilies (Lilium), as opposed to daylilies (Hemerocallis), and you will have some of the most fragrant plants in your garden. Lilium are planted as a bulb, in the fall, or purchased as a flowering potted plant in summer. They are also much loved by rodents and deer (I have a problem with voles, so no luck with Lilium) but for many folks, this is not an issue. The tall native, Cimicifuga racemosa ‘Black Cohosh’ develops tall spikes of honey-scented bottle-brush shaped flowers that are usually swarmed by bees in late summer. Cimicifuga is very tolerant of just about everything: shade or sun, wet or dry, and salt. Common Milkweed, has a syrupy sweet scent, and is considered essential for those wanting a pollinator friendly garden. Another common native shrub; Clethra alnifolia, or Summersweet, produces sprays of very fragrant white flowers in mid-summer, and should be on everyone’s list of easy native flowering plants.
Fragrant Hosta plantaginea
Fragrance in plants developed to help plants cope with their environment. To aid in defense against predators, certain volatile oils will deter feeding from animals. Other fragrances will promote pollination, and communicate to pollinators our flowers are ready for you… Do you have a scent memory? A fragrance that will take you back to some pleasant or striking memory? For me it is Lily-of-the-Valley. It is such an ephemeral flower; I only get to relive my fragrance memory for a short time each year.
July’s ‘to-do’ list
Our Cherry tomatoes are on track for producing ripe fruit by July 4th, as I write this newsletter. I’m growing ‘Apero’ Cherry tomatoes this year; a cross between a cherry and grape type tomato, with high disease resistance. Last year foliar disease on our tomatoes significantly reduced the yield, and the Cherry tomatoes were dead before August! We like to grow slicing, plum, and cherry types of tomatoes. We’ve had a terrific spell of early summer weather, although we can use some more regular rainfall. Roses have benefitted from the mild winter, and prolonged cooler weather, I think this year’s blooms have been the best in years.
According to Drought.gov we are officially experiencing a drought. Recent rains have helped, but we still remain far below typical levels of soil moisture. It is critical for the long term health of recently (within the last three years) planted trees and shrubs to have consistent water during their active growth cycle. Frequently the damage incurred from drought stress to plants does not appear until one or two growing seasons later; usually when the weakened tree or shrub can’t fend off an attack from some pathogen. Please start watering your new/newer trees and shrubs, as needed. Please don’t rely on rain for watering newly planted trees and shrubs. It is usually not enough to get down to the root zone. Invest in a few rain gauges and place them around your garden beds, to check how much rain/ irrigation really is reaching your plants. One inch/week is optimal.
Raise your mower height to 4” to conserve your lawn through the hot and drier days of July. The added height will help shade out lawn weeds too. If you can, water your lawn through prolonged dry spells, so it won’t go into dormancy. Watering deeply once a week, is far more effective than multiple shallow watering; and will promote better root development.
Japanese beetles usually appear during the second week of July. These voracious insects will feed on many kinds of ornamental trees, shrubs, roses, and fruit. Hand-pick Japanese beetles, if you’re not squeamish, then drown them in a container of soapy water to reduce adult populations. Consider starting a grub reduction program, to reduce future populations. Lawn grubs are the immature phase of this pest, and grub infestation goes hand in hand with mole and skunk damage on lawns. These mammals dig up turf as they search for the grubs.
Potted plants need extra TLC to keep looking beautiful all summer.Pots in the sun need deep watering (saturate the pots until water drains out) daily, and regular feeding to replace what you flush out with daily watering. We like to use a timed release fertilizer, such as Osmocote in the potting soil, and a weekly dose of water soluble fertilizer, such as Miracle Gro or Peter’s to keep our client’s plants blooming all summer.
If you haven’t done so already, protect your blueberries and other small fruit from hungry birds by covering the bushes with netting or floating row covers.
Remove spent blossoms from your flower garden. Leaving the dead flowers promotes grey mold, aka botrytis, which colonizes dead and decaying plant tissue. Cut back leggy annuals to encourage new growth and more flowering. Petunias are a good example of an annual that will flower right through to frost, if refreshed by cutting them back by one third in mid-summer.
Ticks continue to be a huge problem in our area. The threat of tick bites on people and their pets can put a damper on our summer fun. Countryside uses ‘Tick Free’ to help control ticks around your home and yard. ‘Tick Free’ is a 100% organic and kosher product, and does not harm any beneficial or non-target insects or animals.‘Tick Free’ can be sprayed, without any damage to plants, throughout the property and especially brushy areas where ticks linger. It is also useful as a repellent for snakes, but will not harm any amphibians or reptiles. Please contact our spray program manager- Scott Higley: Scott@countrysidelandscape.net
Don’t give up on weeding yet! We are still receiving more than 15 hours of daylight, and plants are very much in active growth, especially weeds! Many annual weeds will begin to set seeds soon, so it is important to keep up with weeding chores; to prevent the next cycle of weeds. If you have a weedy area you are thinking of clearing, consider using the solarization method: (https://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/library/gardening/soil-solarization/) utilizing the heat of the sun to cook the weeds right down to the roots.
Need and hand with weeding and pest control? Send us an email firstname.lastname@example.org or call today! (413) 458-5586
Help our birds!
There has been a lot written recently about bird watching being such a rewarding pastime, as we’ve been in self-isolation this spring. Yes, there have been a lot of interesting birds this spring; some I’ve never seen before. Watching their behaviors was very centering for our family, through the many weeks of being at home. I’ve read that because of less human activity during that time, more animals were out and about, with less fear of human interaction.
Perhaps it is time we do something more substantial to help the birds in our hometowns. If we think of the primary needs of birds: food, shelter, and water, we can help create more hospitable backyards for birds to live. A neat and tidy, closely mowed yard is not what birds are looking for in a welcoming environment. I know not everyone would want to let their lawn go wild, but perhaps creating an island of wild in the midst of the mown lawn would be something we could live with?
Mini meadow and lawn can coexist
Let some dying trees become habitat for birds and animals. Woodpeckers are the pioneer species in the colonization of dead trees. Having a healthy woodpecker population, will help many more species besides the woodpeckers, says John Marzluff, urban ecologist at the University of Washington. More than 40 species of birds depend on the woodpecker to create nesting holes. Bluebirds, swallows, titmice, and wrens are but a few of what is termed ‘secondary nesters’; they can’t create nest holes, but will take over abandoned woodpecker holes. Hummingbirds are known to follow sapsuckers around to drink from the sap holes until sources of nectar begin blooming. The dead tree will be a food source; harboring fungi, lichen, and insects for wildlife to feed on. Creating a ‘snag’ (the term for the remnant tree) will promote a feeding and breeding zone on your property- as long as the tree is not in danger of falling near power lines or structures. Your arborist can guide you, on how to properly create this wildlife hostel.
Woodpecker holes make new homes for other birds
Create a water source. Whether it is a birdbath that you maintain all-year-round, or a man-made pond that you upgrade with a winter pond de-icer, providing a year round water source will increase bird traffic in your animal friendly yard. The de-icer will only keep a small drinking hole open for business, and not heat the water or keep all the ice thawed. The importance of access to water 12 months of the year can’t be underestimated. You may find yourself looking at other animal visitors besides birds, once the word gets out to the neighborhood of how nice your yard is now with food shelter and water.
As daylight fades into night a new world of shadows, sounds and fragrance await us; welcome to the moon garden. In the moon garden bright colors become invisible as light turns to dark. Only the palest pastels and white stand out. Grey and silver foliage plants will reflect light with their metallic sheen. Many flowering plants will release their perfume at night, or become more intense. Creating a moon garden has two benefits, the same plans that will attract butterflies by day, will also lure moths at night. In choosing flowers, look for simple, single flowered shapes. The fully double varieties of some flowers make it very difficult for most pollinators to access the pollen and nectar. Here are a few ideas for flowers and shrubs that will beckon night visitors:
Good choices to start a moon garden:
Stachys byzantina, better known as woolly Lamb’s ears is a delightful perennial plant with large leaves covered with dense white ‘fur’. In summer it will send up 18-24” bloom spikes with dainty pink flowers. Some cultivars have been bred to be sterile; the variety ‘Silver Carpet’ is very showy.
Hydrangea quercifolia, and Hydrangea anomala petiolaris, The Oakleaf, and Climbing hydrangeas provide both nectar and pollen for bees and butterflies and moths. The Oakleaf hydrangea, has stunningly beautiful leaves, in addition to creamy white flowers, and will develop good purple fall leaf color. Climbing hydrangea can transform a wall or fence into a living lace curtain, when in bloom. Fall color is a golden yellow. Oakleaf Hydrangea will tolerate part shade, but will also thrive in full sun once established. Standard sized varieties can grow up to 15’ x 15’; compact types will stay at 4’ tall. Climbing Hydrangeas require sturdy, permanent support, and will grow up to 30’ tall. Like most hydrangeas, they like a full to partly sunny light exposure.
Echinacea purpurea ‘White Lustre’ is a white flowered (purple) coneflower. As easy to grow as it’s purple colored cousin. There have been many new introductions to the Echinacea family, but the simple, single flowered forms are the best for pollinators. If you study the architecture of an Echinacea, you will see it is actually comprised of hundreds of tiny individual flowers in the center of each flower. Exactly the shape members of Lepidoptera prefer to feed on. Prefers full sun to light shade; grows up to 4’ tall x 2’ wide.
Echinacea purpurea ‘White Lustre’
Nicotiana sylvestris ‘Only the lonely’ is one of my favorite plants. Grown as an annual here, flowering Tobacco opens in the evening, and will spread its Jasmine-like perfume all through your garden. The 5-6” long pure white tubular flowers attract pollinator moths, and have a very unique look. Grows up to 5’ tall. Often it will re-seed, prefers part-shade to full-sun.
Nicotiana sylvestris ‘Only the lonely’
Phlox paniculata ‘David’ is a vigorous, yet sturdy, tall garden Phlox. Growing about 40” tall x 24” wide, it is also very mildew resistant and free flowering. The spicy vanilla-clove scent will enchant you and the nighttime pollinators. It does best in soils with consistent moisture, and would benefit from an early spring thinning to promote air circulation.
Phlox paniculata ‘David’