Welcome, summer

And along with it, weeding, clipping and praying for rain.

Solstice spires catching morning sunlight- Susan Safford

The intensity of light, the long evenings, the time of haymaking and wild strawberries, the shimmering, electric quality of the ultraviolet coursing through all light-driven beings — these combine to transform the Northern Hemisphere into an elevated state. It is the time of the summer solstice, which occurred Monday.

Graduation and weddings are celebrated now, tapping into the high energy. Congratulations, graduates and newlyweds! Off you go, on to the next phase, out into the world. Believe in the joy and optimism that this time of year brings.

Aspiring plants

June is “it” in ornamental gardens, the month that supplies the greatest bounty of growth and bloom. Hostas, alchemilla, annuals, poppies, many early compositae, roses, astilbe — who can complain?

Plants that flower with spires are especially prominent. Baptisias, lupines, foxgloves, delphiniums, dictamnus (June 9, Garden Notes), hollyhocks, Salvia ‘Caradonna,’ thermopsis, and veronicas are a few that supply this contrast of upward elements against the mounds and foliage effects of the mixed border.

Others, such as kniphofia, Ligularia ‘the Rocket,’ and eremurus continue similar effects a little later. In the floral abundance of the solstice garden, planting what I think the Transcendentalists called Aspiring Plants incomparably heightens the architecture.

Delphiniums need little introduction. Many first heard of them (and “geraniums [red]”) while being read A.A. Milne’s “The Dormouse and the Doctor” (bit.ly/DormDR) when very young. In our Island climate, they are grown more or less as annuals: They fail to find the damp, freeze-thaw Island winters congenial, unless planted into a fast-draining, gritty soil that is rather poor. Growing too lushly may hinder survival over winter.

Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea, and hybrids such as Digiplexis) may be biennials or perennials, depending upon species, but most familiar is D. purpurea, which germinates and grows the first season, and then flowers, sets seed, and dies the second season. If allowed to proliferate, over time a forest of them may establish without any help from anyone. On the other hand, cultivation, tidying, mulching, and general good garden practice may discourage or eliminate them.

Both lupines and baptisias are legumes and produce their own nitrogen, tolerating less improved soils and situations. Lupines self-seed easily if not deadheaded. Purchasing a couple of plants in several colors should result in a variety of seedlings, but they are easy from seed mixes too. Grown-in-place plants are often more rabbit-resistant than installed ones.

Baptisias are well adapted to the Vineyard; many wild relatives inhabit the Island’s sandplain grasslands. Although baptisia cultivars are now available in ever-widening color ranges, the old standby species B. australis is blue. Recent hybrid introductions include ‘Solar Flare,’ ‘Carolina Moonlight,’ ‘Dutch Chocolate,’ ‘Purple Smoke,’ and ‘Twilight Prairie Blues.’ Most form taproots over time, so should be planted where they are to grow.

Hardy Salvia ‘Caradonna’ stands out for its habit: more upright and “aspiring” than its mounding kin such as Salvia nemorosa cultivars, and its striking deep purple-blue color, which contrasts admirably with some of the typical June garden perennials, poppies, irises, and peonies.


Polly Hill Arboretum management made the difficult decision to remove the informal boxwood hedge adjacent to the Homestead, which experienced stem disease causing extensive dieback. The solution was seemingly to cut the overgrown plants back to 12 inches, in an effort to encourage regrowth. After further review, it was decided that they would be removed.

Boxwood has only one major annual need for maintenance, thinning, according to the U.S. National Arboretum website, 1.usa.gov/28JsbRZ, recommended to maintain healthy interiors of the densely growing plants. Annual thinning brings light and air into the interior and encourages the stocky growth within the canopy that can resist ice or snow.

I had been looking for more boxwood in several nurseries, and wondered if the ease of propagation maybe made more sense than buying. Propagating boxwood from cuttings is not difficult, and the time to take cuttings is coming up.

According to the instructions on the site of the American Boxwood Society, “cuttings are taken from 1-year-old branchlets. For example, if using B. sempervirens `Suffruticosa,’ the cutting would be about 2½ inches; if using B. microphylla var. japonica it would be about 4 inches long. Once collected, the leaves are removed from the bottom inch of the cutting. This bottom portion can be treated with a rooting hormone.

“Nearly equal results are achieved in treatment or nontreatment with rooting hormones, which are intended to induce the cutting to develop a root system. The cuttings are then placed in flats or trays. Nearly any type of container can be used as long as it is able to hold the media and provide drainage. It is an equal portion by volume of pine bark; coarse, sharp builder’s sand; and perlite. “Rooting usually occurs in two to three months. During this time, environments with high humidity consistently result in superior rooting. Frequent watering with a spray bottle to mist the cuttings provides satisfactory results. The plants can be planted out in a protected area the following spring.”

In the garden

Gardeners will have noticed that everything is leaping out of the ground, weeds and desirable plants alike, although weeds seem to have an uncanny ability to surpass. This year sees a particularly harsh transition from overly cool spring weather to hot and dry-as-dust summer: everything is insatiable for moisture. Ants and wasps will be actively seeking it to bring back to their nurseries. Birds that have access to birdbaths are there, drinking thirstily. Lawns, sometimes even those under irrigation, brown out unexpectedly; nothing takes the place of regular natural rainfall. Sharpen and adjust mower blades to cut to a longer length. (Rain barrels are great, but require rain!)