Garden Notes : Law of unintended consequences
All things are interconnected.
Everything goes somewhere.
There is no such thing as a free lunch.
Nature bats last.
Stand up for what you stand on! Earth Day is coming around again but it might as well be Earth Minute or Earth Second, for all we have accomplished to alleviate the degradation of our home and only planet. What to do? There are a lot of suggestions and no definitive answers to that yet. For earthlings, every day should be Earth Day for starters.
But just as some have posited that it may be the beating of butterfly wings that leads to mighty hurricanes, awareness has not been given to humanity to understand the interconnectedness of all things. We do not even acknowledge the Law of Unintended Consequences. One diverted or dammed- up trickle of our planet's river-of-life may be tantamount to the end for all of us.
My own thought is that attempting to "dam up one trickle of life" - say black spot or Japanese beetles or crab grass - probably starts trouble. It is the height of ignorance for us humans, not having created our beautiful world or ourselves, to be the deciders of what is "good" or "bad" in life. We can't eliminate anything or anyone without risking unintended results.
Photo by Susan Safford
Divide snowdrops now
Some pollinated snowdrop flowerheads are now transforming into plump green seed capsules, which weigh down the stems until touching the soil adjacent to the clump. This is one way the plant spreads itself; the other is by bulb increase. Our assistance in the process is to dig the most congested clumps, tease them apart, and replant the small bulbs immediately, about two to three inches deep. Experts generally recommend dividing and replanting them right after flowering.
Beth Chatto, in describing her garden in "The Englishwoman's Garden," (Chatto & Windus, London, 1981) has this to say about snowdrops: "Three snowdrops are meaningless in empty space; they must be seen in drifts and patches, in the context of their companions." As the snowdrops become passé and yield to the croci and other early spring bulbs, now is the time to work on those effects, keeping in mind Ms. Chatto's advice about the "drifts and patches."
The handsome broadleaved evergreen Pieris, in the large family Ericaceae, were formerly called andromeda; but since that is actually the proper name of another plant (bog rosemary), it is preferable to learn to call them pieris to avoid confusion. There are three species: P. japonica; P. formosa; and P. floribunda, the last native to North America.
Pieris are sturdy, slow-growing plants often used as a vertical accent or mass in foundation plantings. A wealth of named cultivars and interspecific hybrids creates an overwhelming abundance of choices. All are well adapted to the Island and one aspect of pieris that makes them so is that deer seem to ignore them, unlike their often-browsed cousins, the rhododendrons.
Similarly to rhododendron, pieris prefer well-drained, acidic, moist, humus-y soil in shaded or woodland conditions. The whorled foliage of P. japonica and P. formosa are susceptible to a sucking insect called lace bug but are especially so when grown in full sun. The damage shows up as stippled, yellowed foliage. (According to Michael Dirr in "Manual of Woody Plants," the native species P. floribunda is not afflicted and is also tolerant of sweeter soil than the other two.)
While pieris are susceptible to several leaf spots and mites, meeting the plants' easy cultural requirements usually achieves beautiful results. Care consists of deadheading after bloom, insuring good drainage, mulching, and pruning out any browned branch tips that occur.
The most exciting developments in pieris consist of newer cultivars, such as ‘Valley Valentine,' and hybrids like ‘Forest Flame,' with heightened red tints in new growth or blossoms. Compact forms that remain under five feet tall exist, but most forms attain six feet and up, in height, and sometimes nearly as much width, if not pruned. A recent winner of the Cary award (2000) is Pieris x ‘Brouwer's Beauty,' a six- by six-foot white-flowered form. Throughout the winter, though, its buds are a deep maroon, visible and decorative. P. japonica ‘Dorothy Wycoff' is a strong-growing but compact form with shining dark green foliage and deep red buds that open pale pink.
Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum'
As all-season pieris are particularly a pleasure of spring so too are the epimediums: a plant of four-season interest whose extraordinary and delicate flowers appear in spring. The epimediums, in the Berberidaceae, are attractive, low-growing, shade-tolerant plants. Ignored by deer, they are happy in woodland gardens or facing down shrub borders.
Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum' is slightly taller and larger leaved than many of its brethren. Daintiness, in scale and texture, is a feature of many epimediums, but E. x ‘Sulphureum' is vigorous and upstanding at 14 to 16 inches. Long-lasting, the individual plants form spreading mounds once established.
The leaf form of epimediums is distinctive: an offset keel or point sits to one side of the midvein at the stem end of the leaf similar to some begonias. The stem itself is a thin, strong wire, upon which the leaf trembles. The leaf margins are delicately toothed or barbed.
In a good season, this foliage provides interest and color in spring and fall and sometimes right through the winter on the Vineyard. Early spring leaf color is typically reddish brown, against which the sulphur yellow flowers contrast to good advantage. If conditions are right in fall, leaves show bronzy and carmine tones. E. ‘Sulphureum's' flowers unfold in spring in umbels on wiry stalks similar to the leaf stems. They are curiously shaped - like minute columbines, perhaps. E. ‘Sulphureum' is showier in bloom than most epimediums as the flowers are relatively large, about 3/4".
Lift and divide epimediums in spring. However, the plant is tough and division can be done successfully at almost any time during the growing season. They associate well with the usual woodlanders: the above-mentioned pieris, hellebore, primula, hosta, fern and polygonatum. Plant them in humus-rich soil where they can increase freely and provide groundcover.
A favorite planting in one of our gardens includes E. x ‘Sulphureum,' against a backdrop of inkberry, Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Compacta,' and tiger lilies. With good reason, E. x ‘Sulphureum' is widely available in nurseries and garden centers, but for a truly breath-taking array of connoisseur epimediums, including the latest Chinese discoveries, the nursery of plant explorer Darrell Probst, Garden Vision (978-928-4808) in Hubbardston is the place.