How Does Your Garden Grow?
Transplanted gardeners from colder climes are consistently frustrated in their attempts to translate their beloved northern gardens to the relatively inhospitable environment of the Lowcountry. But in spite of all evidence and advice to the contrary, they usually persevere in their efforts until experience convinces them that it is not to be. And it is understandable because northern plants are lovely and lush indeed, thriving in the temperate, (at least in spring, summer and early fall), climate of southwestern New York state, particularly Chautauqua, whence these garden thoughts float in late July.
Chautauqua Institution is well known for its up to date lectures on what’s happening now and why, delivered by highly qualified experts from around the globe, on weekly themed subjects. These, combined with symphony concerts, opera, ballet and live theatre, book and discussion groups and much, much more, combine to make it a glorified summer camp for adults. There is also sailing, swimming and even the obligatory golf course.
But more to the point, the grounds encompass a pleasure garden where public and private plantings of the most desirable selection of trees, shrubs and perennials and yes, even annuals, thrive brilliantly in the sunshine, moderate to cool temperatures and just enough gentle rainfall. Every front dooryard displays a cottage garden reminiscent of England and container gardening is elevated to a high art. Competition, as might be expected, is rather keen as annual prizes are awarded to Garden of the Year, Shade Garden and Container Garden of the Year.
Massive maples with dramatically structured trunks are the dominant canopy tree, but there are also beeches, horse chestnuts, little leaf lindens, shapely blue spruces and tulip trees, Liriodendron tulipifera, as well as the more delicate Japanese maples. Yews of various forms, tall, short, spreading and hedge-trimmed, are plentiful and one cannot help visualizing them bearing a mantle of snow in the winter.
Dropping to the lowest level, pachysandra, ivy and lamium create lush ground cover everywhere. Creeping myrtle or vinca minor, well known to the Lowcountry, is ubiquitous, as is the delicate sweet woodruff.
But the glory of the gardens is the multitude of beloved perennials, chief of which is the large variety of hostas with their dramatic leaves and slender wands of ascending blossoms. Hostas of every variety of leaf form and color are represented. They bloom in sun, shade and every situation in between and there are no deer! Lady’s Mantle, or Alchemilla mollis, is another frequently seen favorite perennial. Its frothy sprays of chartreuse blooms rising from scallopedbasal leaves are good companions for the hostas.
Bronze-leaved heuchera, or coral bells, is another choice companion plant, along with yellow yarrow, blue spiky veronica and balloon flower. Bright masses of black-eyed Susans abound, along with scarlet monarda or bee balm, which occurs in both single and double form. Hollyhock spirals skyward for added vertical interest while lavender grows profusely, although it does not appear to have a very long season.
If this were not enough, lush tuberous begonias grow in brilliant shades of rose, scarlet and flameorange and occasionally in the purest white, faintly pink-tinged underneath. Fuschias add their trailing blossoms to the color scheme.
Rhododendrons are a basic staple, as are hydrangeas, with which Lowcountry gardeners are familiar, but these are somehow different with bigger and bolder blooms. Lace-cap hydrangeas are plentiful in varying antique shades of blue to lavender to pink and the handsome oak leaf hydrangea is also part of the landscape.
Daylilies, petunias and impatiens are familiar but here they appear larger, sturdier and brighter because they are not debilitated by extreme heat and humidity. Calibrachoa, which resembles mini petunias, is very much in favor for hanging baskets and containers. Unfortunately, peonies, lilacs and lilies of the valley, harbingers of a northern spring, are past their bloom and are not factors in the colorful mid-summer display.
A short season, temperate climate, little humidity and very few insects moles or deer all contribute to this elaborate feast for the senses. Well, there is one insect which has reappeared to spoil paradise, and that is the dreaded Japanese beetle. Although it appeared to have come under control over the past several years, the pest has re-emerged with a vengeance and in greater numbers.
Mother Nature never allows us to get too relaxed or complacent. Southern gardeners, whether transplants or not, may take heart in the sure and certain knowledge that in January they will be picking camellias of many stripes and colors for their house while their northern counterparts will be shoveling snow to get out of their house. Then the tables will be turned!