Gorgeous oakleaf hydrangeas putting on a spectacular show this year

Spring had been very slow to arrive here in Virginia this year and now today is the Summer Solstice. We were all waiting patiently for the weather to remain constant instead of the temperature fluctuations all Spring. And finally, at least by the calendar, Summer is here! Hoping for some more consistent weather.

This spirea has chartreuse leaves in the early Spring and then lovely hot pink flowers

This spirea has chartreuse leaves in the early Spring and then lovely hot pink flowers

We had a few 80 degree days in March which popped open many buds prematurely. Then, the night temperatures dropped down to the mid-20s on two nights in April. Some of my more tender perennials and bushes had freeze-burned leaves but happily recovered. Even some of the mature trees on the property lost some of their very early leaves and have sparse branches here and there. My front Bloodgood maple lost a number of early leaves yet the leaves have since resprouted. You can see the “new” growth is a bright red as compared to the deeper red on the slightly older leaves.

Bright red leaves replace the frost-damaged early leaf buds on my Bloodgood maple

Bright red leaves replace the frost-damaged early leaf buds on my Bloodgood maple

My more “finicky” hydrangeas such as Nikko Blue had brown leaves that were freeze-burned and won’t likely bloom this year. They’re sending up leaves from the lower portion of the plants. The hardy oakleaf hydrangeas are just fine though and are now in full spectacular bloom. If I had to select a plant that has survived very well in my landscape — it’s the oakleaf hydrangea.

Massive oakleaf hydrangea blossoms make a gorgeous cut flower arrangement

Massive oakleaf hydrangea blossoms make a gorgeous cut flower arrangement

Gorgeous oakleaf hydrangeas putting on a spectacular show this year

Gorgeous oakleaf hydrangeas putting on a spectacular show this year

Once the weather warmed up, the larger mature trees leafed out very quickly within three or four days. It’s a dense forest now and hard to see through the leaves. Shade can be a good thing — I love my shady backyard. I have some hostas that are yet unidentifed that popped up a few years ago. They have huge dark green leaves. I tend to favor the variegated hostas or the solid blue-gray hostas. I’m pretty sure I didn’t purchase these very hardy performers. Perhaps they are a hybrid from other hosta plants.

These two hosta plants popped up in my landscape a few years ago

These two hosta plants popped up in my landscape a few years ago

This hosta has huge cupped leaves

This hosta has huge cupped leaves

My Lady in Red hydrangea is living up to her name. She’s become very prolific in her offspring which are peppered throughout the boulders around the ponds and even growing INSIDE one of the ponds. She’s so large now, that I have to prune her back as soon as she flowers even if I sacrifice some flowers for next season.

A view from the deck to the backyard ponds -- Lady in Red hydrangea is blocking the view of the top pond

A view from the deck to the backyard ponds — Lady in Red hydrangea is blocking the view of the top pond

My peonies were a bit sparse this year. Last year, I had loads of blooms. This year, the blooms that I didn’t cut for my table arrangements just turned brown rather quickly. I’m hearing similar comments from others in the area. I think the late cold snap really took its toll on the unopened buds.

My peonies all bloomed and turned brown fairly quickly this year

My peonies all bloomed and turned brown fairly quickly this year

My bleeding hearts came up very quickly this year — almost a foot tall overnight! They were very prolific in their flowering which is exciting.

Early bleeding hearts this year

Early bleeding hearts this year

Last year, we had a terrible onslaught of slugs’ attacking my planted herb pots due to all the rain in the Spring. This year, to help combat that slug problem, my husband surprised me with a raised bed planter that he hand-built for my birthday. I am very pleased so far with the solid construction and its utility. And, I don’t have to bend over to take care of my plants! I’ve planted baby lettuces, assorted herbs, and trailing nasturtiums in my raised bed planter. More on the raised bed planter in an upcoming posting.

Nasturtium, baby lettuces and baby basil are planted in the potted herb garden and raised planter bed

Nasturtium, baby lettuces and baby basil are planted in the potted herb garden and raised planter bed

My two Cherokee Brave dogwoods were just gorgeous this year. Their lovely pink color definitely signals Spring.

Cherokee Brave Dogwood in its full glory this Spring

Cherokee Brave Dogwood in its full glory this Spring

Most of my early azaleas’ buds froze on the plants. Additionally, Bambi and his friends ate quite a number of buds on my oldest pink azaleas that they rarely touch! See the difference between last year’s spectacular flowers…and this year’s paltry display.

This year's sad display of pink azaleas due to Bambi's nibbles

This year’s sad display of pink azaleas due to Bambi’s nibbles

And last year's gorgeous blooms on the pink azaleas

And last year’s gorgeous blooms on the pink azaleas

The rest of my azaleas and my rhododendrons were gorgeous this year. That cold snap froze the lavender-colored flower buds on my deciduous azaleas which are usually first to bloom. Yet even so, my red azaleas were prolific this year. The white ones really stood out, especially at night.

This rhododendron was stricken with borers. I treated it and look how gorgeous it became!

This rhododendron was stricken with borers. I treated it and look how gorgeous it became!

A view of the back yard

A view of the back yard

White Azaleas were gorgeous this year

White Azaleas were gorgeous this year

This cinnabar azalea is grown for its foliage, not for its unique flowers -- I like the flowers, too!

This cinnabar azalea is grown for its foliage, not for its unique flowers — I like the flowers, too!

Cinnabar Azalea and Oakleaf Hydrangea

Cinnabar Azalea and Oakleaf Hydrangea

This clematis vine was so happy in its new location. Previously, its planter had been up against a brick wall. I moved it so it would get more sunlight and I was rewarded with tons of blooms!

This clematis vine went gangbusters this year!

This clematis vine went gangbusters this year!

Some of my favorite blooms this year are still my oakleaf hydrangeas.

My lovely oak leaf hydrangeas helped celebrate Flag Day -- just like soldiers at attention

My lovely oak leaf hydrangeas helped celebrate Flag Day — just like soldiers at attention

And of course, what’s a garden without some critters? I found a cute garter snake that watched me from afar and continues to pop up where I’m not looking.

Friendly garter snake in the leaves

Friendly garter snake in the leaves

And what happens when you find a totally BLACK woolly bear? What does THAT mean??

So what happens when you find a solid BLACK woolly bear?

So what happens when you find a solid BLACK woolly bear?

What’s happening in YOUR garden? Please leave a comment and let us know.

My peonies were beautiful this year

Hello and Happy New Year! 2015 was a very busy gardening year for me as evidenced by fewer 2015 garden postings here at A Gardener’s Delight. I’ll start with a recap of last year’s garden and then move on to what I’m planning for Gardening in 2016.

For the first time, I grew my own salad greens in pots. Check out my posting from my food site A Food Lover’s Delight: How to Grow Your Own Salad. Nothing’s tastier than picking fresh greens from your own garden. I chose pots because we have a lot of sun on our deck, but the planting beds are mostly shady in our fenced backyard. The pots were a great idea and kept most pests away. The salad greens were in window boxes on the top of the deck railings which kept them away from slugs. I grew the salad greens from seed: A spicy spring mix, a salad greens mixture, and also a couple kinds of arugula. I’ve noted that the “heirloom” varieties are far more finicky than the regular varieties. My heirloom arugula was stricken with cabbage moths and their caterpillars. I had to use an organic BT powder to get rid of the moths and caterpillars. Nothing bothered the spring mix. Maybe the pests were just busy eating the arugula.

Baby lettuces did wonderfully in pots on my deck railing this year (no slugs either!)

Baby lettuces did wonderfully in pots on my deck railing this year (no slugs either!)

My tomato plant yields were mixed last year. I planted three different varieties, each in its own large pot with a tomato cage. The heirloom tomato plant grew like crazy, reaching to the sun and stars, and yielded exactly ONE tomato. That one tomato, which took forever to grow, stayed green until late September and then developed blossom end rot. Unfortunately I had to discard it.

My one and only heirloom Cherokee Purple tomato this year developed blossom end rot

My one and only heirloom Cherokee Purple tomato this year developed blossom end rot

We had a lot of rain here in Virginia last Spring and Summer so over-soaked soil was a contributing factor as well as declining sunshine due to our stately surrounding oak trees. I also planted a Super Sweet 100 cherry tomato plant. I would definitely plant that one again. It was one small plant grew like crazy and yielded hundreds of cherry tomatoes. I purchased the first two tomato plants at my local Merrifield Garden Center. The third plant was grown locally and purchased at Whole Foods Market. It yielded maybe 40 tomatoes that were bigger than cherry tomatoes but smaller than regular tomatoes. Sort of the “teenager” of the tomato group.

My Super Sweet 100 cherry tomato plant went wild this year!  It was still blooming into mid-October.

My Super Sweet 100 cherry tomato plant went wild this year! It was still blooming into mid-October.

This is the teenager of the tomatoes that I grew last summer

This is the teenager of the tomatoes that I grew last summer

My potted herb garden grew nicely this year — mostly. I changed the soil in my very old thyme plants’ pot and it rewarded me by coming back very nicely. My chives come back reliably year after year. My rosemary plant has been happy for years and is now sitting inside the sunny kitchen window for the winter.

My old potted sage plant was stricken with slugs due to all the rain we received. I’m sad to say that the old sage plant died off. I planted a second sage plant and it was also attacked by slugs. One parsley plant which has hung on for several years was also stricken by slugs. Each morning, I spent at least 10 minutes picking slugs off the plants. I hate to use slug bait around my herbs so I was using saucers of beer. Not exactly worthwhile since the slugs would first feast on the herbs and then stop over for a beer chaser where they would drown in happiness. I also used a smear of Vaseline the whole way around the outside of each pot’s middle, but that didn’t seem to guard against the slugs either.

My potted herb and salad garden!

My potted herb and salad garden!

My basil did better this year. Last year, it was struck with the “basil blight.” This year, the blight didn’t happen. I love fresh basil and just before our first frost, I harvested all of my basil and arugula and made basil and arugula pesto for the freezer. Something else I’ve tried, which turns out great, is Spring Mix Pesto. Ever buy a giant container of spring mix at the grocery store, only to have it start to wilt quickly or decline due to too much moisture? Try my Spring Mix Pesto recipe and you’ll never throw out your spring mix again.

What to do with all that Spring Mix? Make Spring Mix Pesto!

What to do with all that Spring Mix? Make Spring Mix Pesto!

I tried two types of oregano this year — Italian and Greek. Both have their own distinct flavors and are great for drying for future use. Two types of mint overwintered from last year: spearmint and pineapple mint. Both grew splendidly this past summer. My tarragon didn’t survive.

My potted chives, oregano, mint, and parsley are all growing happily inside my screened porch for the winter. They get a few hours of sun and will hopefully overwinter nicely. I bring them inside because they are in terra cotta or ceramic pots and I don’t want the pots to crack in the weather. I left some potted chives outside on the deck along with lavender and another parsley plant. They are in plastic pots which don’t usually crack over the winter. Any herbs that I’ve cut and I can’t use are dried and stored in jars for future use.

My neighbor has a large property with an enviable vegetable and herb garden that is fenced to protect it from deer. She gets full sun which allows her to grow a lot more produce than I can. We traded herbs and veggies all summer. Her rosemary plants are huge and she’s growing a very old tarragon plant that has some of the best tarragon that I’ve ever tasted. I’m lucky that she shares with me.

Purple eggplants from my neighbor's garden

Purple eggplants from my neighbor’s garden

Lots of flowers in my garden this year. Our abundant rainfall caused problems with potted plants yet the ones in the ground produced loads of flowers. My peonies went gangbusters and the hydrangeas did not disappoint either. And my old annual impatiens, the ones not affected by the impatiens blight, lived long and happy lives and are still going in my basement for the winter! Here are a few photos of the gorgeous flowering plants in my garden last spring and summer.

Oakleaf hydrangea in full bloom

Oakleaf hydrangea in full bloom

My peonies were beautiful this year

My peonies were beautiful this year

Shirobana Spirea was a show all its own

Shirobana Spirea was a show all its own

Pretty pink impatiens that have survived impatiens blight and come back year after year

Pretty pink impatiens that have survived impatiens blight and come back year after year

Some cute critters graced my garden this year. Quite a number of praying mantises stood guard in my pachysandra beds. Butterflies fluttered around my butterfly bushes. A couple of descendants from my Old Blue Eyes dragonfly a few years ago became friendly and even liked to land on my finger. They have such cute personalities! My friends began to call me “The Dragonfly Whisperer.” And we had fewer adult frogs this year at the ponds. Not sure why that happened as we had loads of tadpoles last Spring and Summer.

Brown Praying Mantis was after a horsefly

Brown Praying Mantis was after a horsefly

Green Praying Mantis waiting for prey

Green Praying Mantis waiting for prey

Yellow Swallowtail Butterfly on Butterfly Bush

Yellow Swallowtail Butterfly on Butterfly Bush

A descendant of Old Blue Eyes

A descendant of Old Blue Eyes

A frog in my whiskey barrel pond

A frog in my whiskey barrel pond

Autumn brought some gorgeous color this year. It was a beautiful season with some lovely warm days. Autumn in Virginia is always a favorite season for me. Here are a few photos of fall color in my garden:

Gorgeous Japanese maples surrounding the patio at my back yard ponds

Gorgeous Japanese maples surrounding the patio at my back yard ponds

Autumn colors in my Japanese maple leaves

Autumn colors in my Japanese maple leaves

Gorgeous Japanese maples in full Fall color

Gorgeous Japanese maples in full Fall color

Late Fall and early Winter were fairly mild. We had a few weeks of 70 degree temperatures throughout November and December 2015. Eventually it cooled down, but was in the 70s again on Christmas Day. On my Christmas wish list this past year was The New Southern Living Garden Book: The Ultimate Guide to Gardening to add to my 150+ gardening book collection. Santa didn’t bring it to me for Christmas, so I bought it for myself. I look forward to browsing through the pages. So far, the book appears to have a lot of new plants in the plant dictionary as well as some new ideas on garden design.

While Gardening in 2016, I will definitely plant salad greens in pots again. I’ll try the Super Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes, too. And of course, my potted herb garden is a mainstay on my deck. I’d like to clear out some of the little saplings that pop up in my pachysandra beds. Our oaks produced thousands of acorns this year which highly pleased the squirrels and deer alike. I’m hoping that all of those acorns don’t sprout because that will mean pulling them up out of my planting beds.

In doing my garden planning for this year, I’d love to have a fenced garden area like my neighbor’s. We do have an area that would suffice except it’s currently planted with some native dogwoods (which I would leave in place) and some pachysandra ground cover (which I could move). If you are starting your garden planning for this year, please check out my garden planning posting: It’s Time to Start This Year’s Garden Planning!

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What are your gardening plans for 2016? Leave a comment and let us know what you’ll be doing in your garden.

Not sure yet why this neighbor cut several of my client's cedars to the ground, well inside my client's property line, and severely pruned several others

Do Unto Other Gardeners As You Would Have Them Do Unto You. Gardening can be such a delight. Yet having just one uninformed hapless neighbor or even an intentionally destructive neighbor can put a damper on anyone’s gardening success. Garden damage by neighbors is a regular occurrence even in the nicest and quietest of neighborhoods.

It seems that no matter where you live, there is always at least one individual who doesn’t believe that the law applies to them, nor are they respectful of others’ property. It could be that they allow their pets to run unrestricted in the neighborhood, that they don’t pick up after their pets, or that they are just generally disrespectful of others.

One of the first activities that I suggest during my garden design consultations is for my client to order a house location survey or property survey find the property corners and mark the property lines. Licensed property surveyors will find the property markers and can add stakes every so many feet along property lines to ensure you know where your property boundaries are located. It’s one of the best investments that a homeowner can make. Additionally, it will usually stop any trespassing by other neighbors. If the neighbors take issue with the survey results, they can always order their own survey. We certainly don’t want to landscape any property that doesn’t belong to the client.

Example of a House Location Survey showing the property plat (Photo Credit: virginiamls.com)

Example of a House Location Survey showing the property plat (Photo Credit: virginiamls.com)

Just let’s hope that the neighbors won’t move the property markers around as I’ve seen happen on other projects. Once the property lines are marked, I take measurements from immovable objects so we know if the markers have been moved. One neighbor kept moving the side markers anywhere from 4 inches to a foot inside my client’s side of the property line. She also installed a yellow string line where she thought (or wished) the property line was located. She never got a property survey of her own and never said a word to my client. However, she had already encroached several feet onto my clients’ property by cutting branches of the bushes and planting her own flowerbeds. It turned out that quite a few of that neighbors bushes and plants were on my clients’ property. My client ended up installing a 6 foot stockade fence two inches inside her side of the property line which seems to have resolved the encroachment problem. My client did have to pay for a second survey on the morning of the fence installation, while the fence installers were there, to be sure the other neighbor would not move the stakes before the fence went up. Some people just want to argue over a few feet of property. Let’s hope your neighbors don’t do the same to you!

It appears that the neighbor moved a side property line marker from the original stake hole about 4 - 5 inches into my client's side of the property line and didn't fill in the hole so we knew it had been moved.

It appears that the neighbor moved a side property line marker from the original stake hole about 4 – 5 inches into my client’s side of the property line and didn’t fill in the hole so we knew it had been moved.

One of the gardens that I was restoring a few years ago had neighbors on all three sides. Each set of neighbors had cut/pruned/removed the bushes on the edges of the restoration property, and in some cases, far across the property line. In this area, rather than erecting fences, some homeowners prefer to delineate property with shrubbery. For this particular property, the state law clearly touts that adjoining neighbors cannot cut or prune bushes ACROSS the property line — only UP TO the property line. Coming across the property line is considered to be trespassing. Also, according to that state’s laws, any trees ON the property line can be used as legal markers and require BOTH parties’ approval to be removed.

Next door neighbor didn't like my client's Leyland cypress bushes, cut their branches up to the trunk and then complained that one fell over

Next door neighbor didn’t like my client’s Leyland cypress bushes, cut their branches up to the trunk and then complained that one fell over

Aside from the legal issues of trespassing and property damage, what’s the issue with severely cutting plants on only one side? Plants are usually symmetrical. Think about it. A high wire balancing actor needs both of his arms, and sometimes a long pole, to keep his balance. It’s the same with a tree or bush. Cut off one side, and it may tip over in a strong storm. And one of the Leyland cypress bushes did tip over during high winds. Of course, the neighbor who severely pruned the Leyland cypress’ one side was the first to complain when it fell and wanted it removed immediately.

Improperly pruned bushes can cause them to fall over

Improperly pruned bushes can cause them to fall over

Additionally, severe pruning or cutting can invite the introduction of insect pests. Many large branches removed from a plant, and not sealed off, can encourage diseases. When I am pruning large branches or moving bushes, I’m very careful to seal any nicks or scratches or open wounds on the trunks and main branches as soon as possible with a pruning sealer.

Not sure yet why this neighbor cut several of my client's cedars to the ground, well inside my client's property line, and severely pruned several others

Not sure yet why this neighbor cut several of my client’s cedars to the ground, well inside my client’s property line, and severely pruned several others

Some folks like to see their trees “limbed up” so that they can walk under them. Evergreens are not meant to be “limbed up” like a fruit tree. I have no understanding for people who work against Nature.

A neighbor's day laborers improperly hacked these hemlocks' branches off at the trunk with machetes

A neighbor’s day laborers improperly hacked these hemlocks’ branches off at the trunk with machetes

Do you have a neighbor who takes it upon themselves to remove your weeds and grass for you? It appears that someone near another of my clients is “Round-up” happy. Seems a bit odd for one area of a property to have dead grass when we did not treat it. Also, there are similar dead grass areas in a circle around a tree and in a line along a flowerbed on the next door neighbor’s property. Note: If you are not happy with weeds on your neighbor’s property, talk to them about it. It’s not your property, so you cannot treat the weeds yourself. Most states have pretty clear laws about trespassing and property damage. And if you are treating your own property, don’t treat your neighbors’ too without permission — it’s pretty obvious who did it!

Here’s the “before” photo prior to someone’s application of Roundup or other grass and weed killer:

Before: Here's an area with some grass growing around cinder blocks.

Before: Here’s an area with some grass growing around cinder blocks.

And here’s the “after” photo a few weeks later:

Someone clearly applied a weed and grass killer to this area.

Someone clearly applied a weed and grass killer to this area.

I find it to be very interesting that the neighbors who feel others’ plants, bushes, and trees are encroaching would be quite livid if you were to cut their plants back to their trunks on your side of the property line. So why do they it when many times they don’t even prune their own plants? I have no answer, really, other than some people are just looking for attention, positive or negative. Get your own positive attention by planting some gorgeous plants well inside your OWN property line.

Now, I’m restoring an established yet unmaintained garden as my current project. One of the neighbors has already provided me with a verbal list of what plants she does and does not “like”, what she wants removed, and what she wants to be planted in the restoration garden. She likes knock-out roses, ornamental grasses, and lots of potted annuals and perennials such as pansies and mums. She wanted the pretty pecan tree, hazelnut trees, wisteria vines and butterfly bushes to be removed because they “drop stuff” onto the ground. Not dropping on her property at all, but being fastidious herself, she felt the need to push her views onto my client’s gardening habits and style. I listened quietly, but since she is not my client, I didn’t pay heed to her comments. My job is to satisfy my client — not the neighbor. And it very much surprises me that this woman would be so BOLD when it’s not her property. Had we listened to her, my client’s garden would have been an exact cookie-cutter version of this neighbor’s garden to include lots of unnecessary watering and pruning.

My in-laws had a second home where my father-in-law had a robust vegetable garden. I found it disturbing that the neighbors would wait until he headed back to his first home before they would raid the vegetable garden. I remember driving there one weekend expecting to harvest a lot of tomatoes and peppers. Nope — the neighbors had picked all of the ripe ones. And as we all know, there’s nothing better than a ripe tomato, warm from the vine. How did I find out what happened? Oh, they were not bashful at all about telling me. The nerve of some people!

My late father-in-law's vegetable garden

My late father-in-law’s vegetable garden

So what are the options if you have a neighbor who inadvertently or intentionally causes damage to your garden? Of course, the saying “good fences make good neighbors” is definitely an option. You can resort to legal action which is sometimes the only thing that stops bullying actions. Set up an outdoor security camera system which will record any movements on your property by intruders. Usually with such video evidence, either the neighbor will stop their actions, or you can get a judge to issue a restraining order and let the courts enforce it.

Improperly pruned and now split hemlock branch "over the property line"

Improperly pruned and now split hemlock branch “over the property line”

At this point in my gardening life, I’m more of the listening type. Sure, maybe you don’t like what I plant. I may not like what YOU plant. But I’m not going to tell you about it and I’m not going to remove anything you just don’t happen to “like”. Let’s agree to disagree. You might not like my cedar wall and I may not like your garden gnomes. It’s all about gardening together with the Gardener’s Golden Rule: Do unto other gardeners as you would have them do unto you. Be nice, and you might learn something, too.

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