This week, the cherry blossoms have reached their peak. Maymont has three types of flowering cherries – weeping Higan, Yoshino and Okame. Yoshino cherry trees are intermingled with Kwanzan cherries along the Tidal Basin in Washington DC. White fountain cherry trees, seen around Richmond, VA, are also blooming now.
At some point in time this week I ran out of winter. Enjoying a late winter snow earlier this week then being tossed around by piercing winds for a few days only to land on a weekend of blue skies and sunny temperatures has my gardening clock in a quandary.
At Maymont we are in high gear finishing up the winter chores to then quickly move our focus to the spring tasks. We have clipped the Liriope, cut back the butterfly bushes, trimmed last year’s growth from the perennial beds, and plucked the boxwood. Maymont guests are enjoying the fresh mulch we spread and the clean look of a newly raked lawn. This week we are finishing up pruning roses in the Italian Garden while planting new roses nearby. Yes, we do replace a bushel of old soil with new compost where we plant roses due to the allelopathic tendency rose roots have as they inhibit other roses from growing in the same area.
On the “to do” list is finishing the final shrub and tree plantings because we have no irrigation to water these plants through the summer except by pulling hoses. We will also complete the final pruning tasks such as reduction prune the bayberry around the fox holding area. We will just remove the largest growth by making a cut within the shrub to reduce the crown of the plant without shearing the top of the plant off. Cleaning up the beds, fertilizing where needed and mulching are priorities while trying get everything edged as well. We are in full gear and with the spring temperatures our volunteers will be in to help get it all done.
At home I have enjoyed a busman’s holiday by finally removing by hand the Vinca minor that has choked my perennial borders. I have also pulled the Nandina domestica seedlings from around the base of the main plant to slow the spread into nearby shrubs. With such high soil moisture the roots are easily pulled from the soften earth. I am inspecting everything for signs of insect and disease while trimming, pruning, raking, fertilizing and mulching.
I recently planted the spring vegetables and now I am tending them with dreams of fresh lettuce, peas and radishes gracing my table fairly soon. Cole crops are available at local garden centers along with many leaf crops as well for those who can’t start them from seed. It is far too early to put out the tomatoes but you can still start them indoors for a May 1st planting here in central Virginia.
I don’t know about you but I am enjoying these lengthening days, watching the tree buds swell and plants emerge as the earth warms to the sun. Spring is aptly named!
Did you know Maymont has an Herb Garden? If not, you’re not alone. The garden had become an unintentional secret at the estate, due in large part to the giant boxwood bushes hiding it from view. The boxwood surrounding the garden was removed last week, with support from Maymont’s Horticulture Advisory Committee. The goal of the project is to heighten awareness of the garden, making it easier for Maymont’s guests to discover and enjoy.
The original half-century-old English boxwood, Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’, grew remarkably well, and despite our best pruning efforts, it became so large, it obscured the garden. The huge evergreen bushes also became a site for insects to overwinter, thus posing a seasonal challenge of insect infestations. The old plants will be replaced with a boxwood cultivar that will not grow as large. During removal, we discovered a course of brick around the perimeter of the garden that defined the boxwood border, so we will take the time to reveal this edging by re-grading the area. The soil in the boxwood bed will be amended with compost, and the pH will be adjusted to 6.8 for optimum boxwood growing conditions prior to the replanting.
Maymont’s Herb Garden was a gift from the Richmond Council of Garden Clubs in 1957. Designed by Kenneth Higgins, it has a traditional circular design with a border defined by boxwood. Today, it displays herbs for culinary, medicinal and potpourri uses. Herbs are organically grown so guests may touch, smell and taste. The garden is also the centerpiece of Maymont’s annual Herbs Galore & More festival and sale in April. It is located beside the original Stone Barn and is most convenient to the Hampton Street entrance.
The Herb Garden has been cared for by the Old Dominion Herb Society since 1978. They meet the first Saturday of the month, except in the summer. The group works in the garden prior to each meeting and luncheon. To join the ODHS, contact Maymont Director of Horticulture, Peggy Singlemann at 804-358-7166, ext 326 or email@example.com.
The list for winter garden chores is slowly shrinking as we tackle each task on sunny winter days. Recently we crossed off cutting down all ornamental grasses in our gardens at Maymont. We cut down last year’s growth as low as possible, depending on the size of the plant. This is not only an aesthetically based task but it also removes any overwintering insect egg masses or diseased material in the dead grassy foliage.
Another task is using a weed eater to cut down the green foliage of Liriope, aka Lilyturf. The lush green foliage will turn brown in the spring as the new growth emerges. To maintain the lush green look of this plant the green foliage must be cut before the new growth, which is now.
This is also the time to prune summer flowering shrubs by cutting out any crossing/rubbing, diseased or deadwood from the shrub. However, this is not the time to prune spring flowering shrubs since the flower buds formed last year. Prune spring flowering shrubs after they bloom.
While doing these chores always keep an eye out for praying mantis egg cases as your work in the garden, we move them to a location of our choosing whenever we find one.
Sanitation in the garden is extremely important to prevent diseases and insects from overwintering from one season to another. Spending time removing last year’s growth from perennial beds is time well spent on a sunny winter day. Save the dreary days for catalog dreaming!
While many people consider winter the time of rest for a gardener, it is actually quite the contrary. This is a season of varying tasks such as insect control, disease control, pruning and bed preparation in Central Virginia. For instance, the springtime tent caterpillars can be controlled by spying for and removing the egg masses attached to branches of plants in the Rosaceae family: such as cherry, pear, crabapple, apple and apricots. In addition Tent Caterpillars have been reported to feed on a variety of hardwoods, including ash, birch, blackgum, oak, sweetgum, maple, and poplar as well.
The egg masses are easily removed by hand now or you can spray the tree with horticulture oil more toward the end of February. Spray the dormant branches and bark of the tree with diluted oil when the temperature stays above 40 degrees for a few days, it must not rain for 24 hours. The oil will not only suffocate the egg masses of the Tent Caterpillar it will also kill overwintering scale, mite and aphids on woody plants. Always follow the instructions on the label for proper mixing instructions and application rates.
The wisteria in Maymont’s Italian Garden has bloomed profusely each spring since 1979, however, the wisteria standard I personally received as a gift 15 years ago has never bloomed. The plant never even set bud to bloom! At first I thought the plant was not receiving enough sunshine, well over the years the various hurricanes eliminated that thought as my partial shade to shade home garden became a full sun to partial shade garden. Then I thought I was fertilizing it too much so I ceased fertilizing it along with the plants nearby thinking there were wisteria roots lurking beneath. Still the wisteria grew and I spent time pruning and shaping it into various forms to please the kids. I always left the final cuts for mid-winter to reduce each shoot down to 3-5 buds with the anticipation that this was going to be the year it would bloom profusely. Alas, the wisteria in Maymont’s Italian Garden was thriving with this proper pruning technique but mine at home stood there and leafed out, almost in defiance of my efforts. With the kids grown and on their own I actually had the time to research why my wisteria never bloomed while Maymont’s always did. The answer was very simple and as a horticulturist it was obvious as well. Some nurseries grow their wisteria from seed and like all seed grown plants the off spring have genetic variations. A common trait in seed grown Wisteria it that it does not set flower buds. The plant grows beautifully but never flowers. Gardeners need to purchase plants that are grafted and not grown from seed to insure they will bloom. When purchasing wisteria look for the swollen section of the trunk, be it low to the ground or higher up the trunk for a standard, where the plant was grafted.
Now, after 28 years of caring for a 200′ long wisteria arbor I encourage you to ask yourself if you really want to plant this very aggressive plant in your garden. Then ask if you have a very strong support system for this large heavy vine. Remember wisteria requires no less than 6 hours of sunshine, and to hold back on the fertilizer each spring. Every winter prune the significant shoots down to 3-5 buds for a glorious display of cascading blossoms come springtime.
Consider extending your bloom season of wisteria by planting both Wisteria sinensis, Chinese wisteria, which blooms before the plant leafs out and Wisteria floribunda, Japanese wisteria, which blooms after the plant leafs out.
Peggy Singlemann, Director of Horticulture, Maymont, Richmond, VA
I can breathe a sigh of relief realizing the end of summer is here as I watch the berries of Callicarpa sp. (Beautyberry) mature from dull green to a soft orchid color. These berries appear in clusters at each leaf axis along the stems of these soft arching shrubs. Growing in full sun or partial shade beautyberries will liven up the garden later in the fall as their leaves turn a vibrant yellow before dropping to the ground.
Another sign the summer is nearing it’s end is the germination of the winter weeds. Henbit seedlings (Lamium amplexicaule) are appearing in our garden beds. This native plant will grow throughout the winter with small purple/pink blossoms at each leaf axis along this plant’s square stems. The seedlings are easily removed from the garden now while still small and vulnerable.
My third signal that fall is coming is the deepening colors of the roses blooming throughout Maymont. With the temperatures slowly declining the roses are no longer washed out by the extreme summer heat and relentlessly high temperatures. With cooler night temperatures rose diseases can flourish so be vigilant in which ever control measure you choose to maintain the optimum health of your rose bushes by preventing black spot and mildew.
For vegetable gardeners this is the time to begin changing the garden from summer to fall crops. The Chesterfield Master Gardeners are busy planting the cole crops, leeks, garlic and greens throughout the raised beds and containers that comprise Jack’s Vegetable Garden at Maymont.
This is a great time of year of renewal for both the garden and the gardener as the temperatures begin their journey back down the thermometer! Enjoy and celebrate the end of another summer in the garden!
Peggy Singlemann, Director of Horticulture, Maymont