My winter daphne started blooming last week. It's a bit early (it usually blooms in February), but it has been a model of steadiness and dependability, filling the garden with its glorious aroma every winter since I planted it six and a half years ago. It will probably be dead next week.
Sky Pencil holly with stem dieback.
A little plant drama has been unfolding in my neighborhood over the past year, a battle of wills between a hapless homeowner and the ubiquitous Sky Pencil holly. So far, the holly is winning.
I don't know the homeowner in question, but from my seat in the peanut gallery, I think I have grasped the basic plot outline. The homeowner has no interest in gardening. Nevertheless, he has some pride and, in any case, property values must be maintained and neighbors appeased. So off he goes to Home Depot or Lowes in search of an easy-care evergreen. He returns with five Sky Pencil hollies and, as Act I ends, plants them in the front yard.
In Act II, all five hollies are showing signs of stem dieback, which gets progressively worse as the weeks wear on. Act III: the five hollies are now thoroughly dead. The homeowner removes them but vows to persevere. In Act IV, four fresh Sky Pencil hollies are installed in the front yard. How will Act V end? Alas, poor homeowner.
Fall is here. Maybe not according to the calendar, but the air conditioner is off and the holly berries are red. As far as I’m concerned, it’s fall.
The berries in question belong to Sparkleberry, my female winterberry holly. Sparkleberry and her male pollinator Apollo were among the wet-tolerant natives that I chose for my problematic back yard, which floods whenever there is a heavy rain. Since joining my garden in 2007, this unlucky pair has been subjected to the most outrageous abuse that either I or nature could heap upon them - flooding, drought, hungry deer, two relocations, and some accidental swipes with a lawn mower. Yet here they are, five years later, sailing along as if nothing had happened.
Hibiscus Crown Jewels.
I owe my hibiscus an apology. Not my hibiscus syriacus, the nearly indestructible Rose of Sharon that is still churning out flowers daily, but my perennial hibiscus “Crown Jewels,” which seems to have been eaten alive while my back was turned.
Perennial hibiscus, sometimes called rose mallow, is a native plant that is all the rage these days. The most popular varieties have dinner-plate-size blooms in shades of red, hot pink, and white, but these are not my favorites. To me, they look fake, almost freakish, the accidental outcome of a bolt of lightning and an ill-timed electrical current. “Crown Jewels” is more demure. It has pretty dark foliage and blooms that measure a paltry 6 inches across - large enough to make a statement but not garish. The flowers (which, like all hibiscus, last for only a day but appear throughout the summer) are white with a red center, and make a nice contrast with the blue Rose of Sharon and bog sage nearby.
Best of all, “Crown Jewels” likes its days hot and its soil soggy. As such, it seemed the perfect plant to help transform my swampy back yard into something resembling a garden. I had no intention of tromping about in the mud coddling sensitive plants that probably wouldn’t survive anyway, so I made sure to select only tough plants that were suited to the conditions. Let nature take its course, I said. And that’s exactly what it did.
The Galloping Horse Gardener is a native New Yorker who packed it in in 2005 to live under the radar in Cary, North Carolina. In 2014, she removed to a new secure location somewhere in Raleigh.
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