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Sunday, June 5, 2016

Body count

I recently heard a gardener present her horticultural credentials by saying, “I’ve killed a lot of plants.” I could definitely relate. This is the time of year when I have to admit that while some plants are going strong, others that were growing in the garden last year just aren’t coming back.

    Dead, or close to it, is my poor mountain clematis (Clematis montana var. rubens 'Odorata'). This vine has adorned a small pergola over the garden gate since 1997. 

This is how the clematis looked last spring
Most of its stems are still bare long after they should be sporting not just leaves but flower buds. 

Rose canes are alive, but the clematis stems are dead

I suspect the clematis was killed back by cold spells last winter without snow for insulation. One green shoot is coming up from the base. I’ll have to cut down the gray stems and hope the plant will have the strength to send up more. It’s done it before.

    On the other hand, some newer inhabitants of the garden are showing promise. I’m glad to see that an oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) I planted last fall at the front of the house made it through the winter, leafed out handsomely, and is getting ready to flower. I wasn’t sure it could deal with the shade and root competition of an aged Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica).

Oakleaf hydrangea looking promising

    I’d almost given up on the switchgrass (Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’) I hoped would survive near the dryer vent outflow. Finally last week it sent up new leaves. What a brave performer! 

The switch grass has come back to life

    Some bearded irises I was ready to send out with the yard waste got one more chance, and they’ve seized the opportunity. I moved them from a partly shady bed where they barely flowered to a sunny spot in front of the fish pond. Each fan of leaves has sent up at least one stalk of elegant blue flowers.

Bearded iris (possibly Iris 'Codicil') looking its spring best

    Time will tell whether the iris foliage will die a conspicuous death later in the season, turning brown and rotting at the base from attacks of iris borers. If so, out they go. I’m not willing to resort to pesticides to keep these irises looking good. 

    My American cranberrybush (Viburnum opulus var. americanum) is finally filling out in its third season in the garden. This was the first shrub I intentionally planted to feed leaf-eating insects. They’re back this spring chewing on the leaves. 

In the past I would have viewed the leaf damage as unsightly, but now I see it as a good thing. Those herbivorous bugs provide nourishment for insect predators, birds, and other animals I want to attract to the garden.

    Some plants find their niche here and live happily. Others don’t find what they need in the soil, or the light conditions, or the water availability, or the weather, or the animal inhabitants. Late spring is the time to mourn the ones that dwindled or didn’t survive. Then I get to make plans for rehabilitating or replacing them.

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