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Gap-filling helps hide year’s failures

Gap-filling helps hide year’s failures

Posted: Tuesday, July 6, 2010 8:01 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams

On the other hand … you have five fingers.
No, seriously, we will look today at the other hand, that is, the failures that have already cropped up here at mid-year. Last week we examined some of our successes, so it is only fair the flops get their day in court.
The garden is relatively rife with failures. I hate to see any bare ground in any bed or border after mid-May, but this time around there seems to be an inordinate amount of it. As late as last week I was desperately plugging gaps with makeshift annuals or divisions off other perennials.
A few weeks ago one of the discount stores offered a perennial bachelor’s button (Centaurea dealbata) with white fringed flowers centered with purple. Striking indeed. I couldn’t resist it, brought it home and then did what I should have done in the first place, read up on the genus. I knew they could be invasive but had a pipe dream that my variety could be an exception.
I’ve seen the often disastrous result of bachelor’s buttons gone wild. To wit: a neat and well-kept flower bed downtown. Blue bachelor’s buttons almost took that garden out before a heroic rescue effort by the dear people that maintain that garden. The more common form of bachelor’s buttons are rampant at the root at exponential speed, taking over all kinds of real estate when not severely controlled.
So, I says, I will leave my specimen in the pot and plop it down in a chosen spot in our rock wall border, where something or other had gone under during winter. Call it cheating if you will. (Well, I copied Louise Taylor’s test answers in the fourth grade, so I have experience.) In a week the roots had run through the drainage holes and were looking for more territory. Luckily, I got it out before significant damage had been done (I think). My centaurea is bound for the meadow garden, where its nomadic propensity can cause no harm.
Stem rot (for lack of better words) has reared its ugly head, as it always does to some degree or other. This time it has been unusually severe. Hostas, of course, show it every year, but not to the extreme. A few stems here and there on a few specimens are about it. That has been about the extent of it this year, as well.
However, other things not usually susceptible are showing damage. Just about the most serious has been on several hydrangeas, particularly the most desirable of the serratas, or Japanese hydrangeas. I fell for them a few years ago and, though references all say they are hardier and tougher than the big-leafs, or macrophyllas, it has certainly not been the case with ours.
We have lost serratas left and right, almost before they got going, not from freezing but from some mysterious wilting, similar to the above mentioned stem rot. The lower extremities of the stems take on a whitish look, then gradually wither away, the debilitation creeping on up the stems until the whole shebang collapses into a pile of sticks. Just about the only exception has been my old reliable ‘Blue Billow,’ which has not expressed any susceptibility.
One of our shade gardens has several Louisiana irises, or at least Louisiana types. I don’t know their varietal names. This year, almost no bloom, and the foliage has exhibited a streaked appearance, usually an indication of a virus. In many years in situ this has never happened. I fear for their lives.
Not far away from them is (was) a huge clump of the only dependably hardy amaryllis that can be grown this far north. It is Hippeastrum x johnsonii, or St. Joseph’s lily, a hand-me-down plant common in the south. It has delectable red flowers with white centers and builds over years into huge clumps.
I have (had) just such a clump that produced last year more than 100 flowers for a month or so, a valuable resident of our red border. The foliage is fine from the May bloom time right up until frost.
This spring, when other, smaller clumps in other parts of the garden began putting up foliage, the big mother clump was silent. Upon digging into the mass of perhaps 60 bulbs, I found a foul, stinking mush of rotten slop where healthy bulbs had been for 20 years or more. Why? You tell me. Later, a few tentative shoots and two or three sub-par flowers did appear, so I hope for recovery by a few of the bulbs that apparently survived. If such recovery should occur, my grandchildren can enjoy them.
I suppose that without failures we would not appreciate the successes. I suppose.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 7.6.10


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