Friday, September 29, 2006

Halt! Drop your weapons!

Imagine the shock to discover that one of America's Most Invasive was mounting sneak attacks throughout the garden! Nice. Not.

Asiatic dayflower (Commelina communis) has a sweetly demure true-blue blossom and a frighteningly aggressive habit. It had blanketed a portion of the back property line, insinuated itself into a phlox growing next to the house, slipped around behind the hollies, and generally eased into any available patch of bare ground.

When a few plants popped up at the end of last summer, I recognized them as members of the spiderwort family but figured that just as with their purple wildflower cousin (Tradescantia virginiana), peaceful co-existence was possible. What I didn't know, however, was that asiatic dayflower's promiscuous propagation--by seeds, roots, or just a length of broken stem setting in the ground where it fell--meant that it was not good at keeping to itself. Should it be a surprise that asiatic dayflower is used to extract heavy metals from contaminated soils?

So next year, I will have to be scrupulous about eradicating this intruder.

Monday, September 25, 2006

A matter of scale

Timing may be everything, but scale also counts. The privet hedge running along the west side of the house has suffered from problems of scale for the past several years.

1. (noun) a distinctive relative size, extent, or degree

Growing as high as eight feet at times, the hedge obscured the dining room windows and presented a pruning challenge of immense proportions. At the uphill end, its large size encrouched on the path into the backyard and squeezed passersby into the spirea.

2. (noun) any of numerous small prolific homopterous insects (superfamily Coccoidea) that have winged males, wingless scale-covered females attached to the host plant, and young that suck the juices of plants and some of which are serious pests.

Despite spraying with noxious chemicals, pruning out deadwood, raking up old leaves, and fertilizing, the privets have been suffering from a blight of scale insects for at least three years. Some years the insects were at one end of the hedge, another year, they'd be at the other end . . . and this year they were all over, resulting in enormous leaf drop and a plant whose bare branches looked like hair standing on end. Quite alarming! I can't say that the hedge was probably planted at the time that the house was built, over 70 years ago, but it certainly looked aged.

This weekend, it came down. Next weekend, DRS and I will start digging out stumps.

Now what to plant instead? This piece of ground poses some challenges: less than full sun, considerable drainage from our uphill neighbor's strategically-placed downspouts, and that charming PVC piping peeking up from our own system. I am thinking about a long line of pachysandra with a water-tolerant spring blooming shrub at the front corner. Pussy willow? (But they have water-seeking invasive roots.) Red-stemmed cornus? (But vulnerable to scale.) Witch hazel? Forthysia?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Still sweet peas

Mid-September and the sweet peas are still throwing a few blooms. This crimson "Old Spice" variety is certainly heat-resistant, having somehow survived the summer.

Usually by late July, the sweet pea vines have bleached to straw and the blossoms ceased, so what a pleasant surprise to find these at the top of six-foot high vines now.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Pinks and purples

The end of the summer brings an imbalance to the garden's color wheel around here. A few lingering white phlox and hostas and a luscious yellow dahlia have tried to weigh in, but the balance is very much tipped to the side of pink and purple flowers. In addition to reblooming--in shades of pink, of course--roses and dianthus, this glorious pale fuschia dahlia from VPS, Sr., is going full throttle.

I never figured out how to stake these dahlias but they indulged my horticultural ignorance nevertheless and spralled into bloom.

Old reliable sedums, "Autumn Joy" and "Vera Jamison," stake out the structure of the fall beds. These have to be divided every two to three years and, beginning in early summer, supported with a metal ring--jeez, did I forget to do that, too?--or the plant flops wide open.

The sedum "Autumn Joy" mixes with blue--well, bluish-purple--Salvia farinacea. These annuals, which I bought just as filler for a container, have proved to be this year's miracle worker, making all their neighbors look better than they should.

Even a line of no-name hosta joins in. These fellows seem to have forgotten that they define garden-variety.

Okay, enough. I need to identify some late season acidic yellow flowers to cut through all this sugary sweetness.