Garden Notes: Catching up to June

Downpours tell us we should be staking more.

The rains, the weather, all seem to have converged to create wonderful gardens this spring. Now it is June, and the season hurtles along. Seed-started zinnias and nasturtiums are in the ground; lupines and foxgloves seduce their insect partners; haying commences, and strawberries ripen.
Blue-eyed grass, a small, adorable Island native in the iris family, is a bonus from No Mow May. Another bonus: Along State Beach, beach roses scent the air so strongly it is appreciable, even inside the car at 35 mph.
As the summer solstice approaches, it may be useful to repeat the pruning advice for flowering plants, to maximize flowers gardeners desire. If the plant blooms before June 21, prune it immediately after flowering. Forsythia is the classic example. If it blooms after June 21, it blooms on new wood, and may be pruned until June 21. Rose of Sharon and clethra are two good examples.
There are exceptions to this, especially hydrangeas, but the principles behind the pruning “rules” are whether the shrub forms flower buds on old wood (previous season’s growth) or new wood (currently growing parts). Prune broken or disfiguring growth at any time, of course.
Downpour time
Let’s talk about downpouring and downsizing. What is the point of sumptuousness, when soil-spattered and lying on the ground?
The extended thunderstorm of early Tuesday, May 28, was a doozy. Might as well acknowledge reality, and admit that intense downpours — now our rainfall du jour — damage large, sumptuous flowers. (Large and sumptuous, of course, are usually what gardeners desire!)
Knowing gardeners expect downpours in peony season, and provide support for plants. Irises may need the same attention. It is becoming less common to enjoy upright, blooming, tall bearded iris anymore. Not usually thought of as needing staking, the showy flowers on stout stems catch and hold rain and become top-heavy: The entire stem topples over.
Large-flowered trusses of showy rhododendrons also hold a tremendous amount of water; branches lean out at odd angles, threatening to twist or break, just like snow load.
For many of the azaleas, it is not so bad. The flower trusses are smaller, and stand up better to a downpour. As an aside, check deciduous azaleas, such as Exbury azaleas, for azalea fungus galls, greenish, lumpy growths that eventually turn white when shedding spores. Cut them off and destroy; do not compost.
There are other bearded iris groups, and species iris, producing leaner flower heads on shorter stems. These remain upright better after receiving a heavy drenching. Miniature dwarf bearded; standard dwarf bearded; intermediate bearded; miniature tall bearded. This American Iris Society link describes the classifications:
From rock garden or front of the border, to tall, back-of-the-border plants, the Siberian and beardless irises add even more choice. These other categories of bearded iris, in addition to the more common tall beardeds, give gardeners a wide choice of these intricate flowers, the fleur-de-lis of France.
Peonies too: Newer peony introductions appear to be bred shorter than the heirloom classics, such as ‘Festiva Maxima,’ that often top out at more than 40 inches.
Still, gardeners will always be seduced by sumptuous floral display. We are willing to hope for the best, and to pay the price in heartbreak for lost bloom, believing that next year will be better.
Tulip aftermath
So the narcissus and tulips are passé; and what supplies color and eye candy to the garden now? The answer is also a bulb. Alliums, flowering onions, come into their own on the coattails of tulip season. Some of these are drama personified, such as ‘Gladiator’ and ‘Globemaster,’ their stature and shapes being slightly otherworldly.
Despite dramatic effect, blooms stand up to rain. Others, such as culinary chives and Allium moly, growing lower for front of the border, provide reliable flowering in a more modest form. There are lots to choose from.
The sticking point with some of the most dramatic ornamental alliums is their foliage beginning to brown prior to flowering. Plant them among other perennials, such as perennial geraniums, that provide “skirts” for them. Many alliums bloom in shades of lavender and magenta, and make a nice counterpoint to peonies; and as with peonies, rabbits and deer seldom eat ornamental alliums.
Attracting fireflies
Quoting liberally from a recent Homegrown National Park post,, if you are nostalgic for the numbers of fireflies you used to see, and wish to attract more, do the following:
“Identify wetter, shadier areas and leave them. This includes minimal foot traffic and mowing; no pesticides, and let leaf litter and decaying wood accumulate. Minimize or eliminate outdoor lighting. Provide a clean water source. Plant a variety of native plants.”
In the garden
Dig and divide daffodils before foliage disappears. Tick check, every night.
In addition to side-dressing perennials with a low-number, organic soil food (“fertilizer”) and either pinching or deadheading, the other care for gardens and to make things look nice is cultivation and edging.
Some may find this entirely too laborious or boring — well then, just throw a bunch of mulch over the whole darn thing.
To others, these practices are key ways to care for, enjoy, and engage with their gardens. Crisp edges set off plantings in a way that is especially effective. In addition, edging prevents turf creep.
While there are many plastic and metal edging products, ultimately they are more trouble and expense than an old-fashioned, long-handled edging tool, which allows flexibility to make adjustments as plants grow and mature.
The other useful tool is a long-handled push-pull cultivating hoe; there are a number of designs. These tools weed a pea stone parking area as well as permitting reaching in to cultivate beds without actually walking on them.
Polly Hill Arboretum is the place to go to view a wide array of wonderful plants that are suitable for Martha’s Vineyard. Check for programs and “What’s In Bloom” info.