week 6 in the garden: scrambling to be ‘ready’ for open day

OOPS! I left the hose stretched messily across the patio, not coiled neatly by the tap. I never did patch the lawn by the vegetable garden, squiggly mazes of missing turf where moles and voles had at it beneath the snow. Clean-cut edges on all the beds? Not yet—and oh, I never did get to trimming all the bits of brown out of one of the big old dwarf white pines or … the list of undone to-do’s goes on.

But nobody among the 250ish visitors asked about those “oops” moments—such a polite crowd, blessedly—and instead just saw the half-full glass, er, garden. What they did notice and wonder aloud about:

What is that yellow flower everywhere that looks like a poppy?

Good guess. Stylophorum diphyllum, the celandine poppy (above), is a poppy relative that is an Eastern North American native—but not so far east as here; maybe to Pennsylvania. I grow it as a garden plant outside its range, as I have for 20ish years.  More on it.

What are those big leaves under that big tree?

In my garden, that question could be asked in many spots, since I am someone who loves outsized foliage. But these questioners (one after another after another) were pointing at the foliage of Rodgersia podophylla, each stem of which will expand quickly now to maybe 3-4 feet tall and a foot and a half across. It’s a first cousin to my favorite large-leaved shade groundcover of all, Astilboides tabularis, which though growing only a few feet away was barely 6 inches high yet on Open Day.

What’s that big, twisted shrub with the furry-tipped branches?

Whatever the season, cutleaf staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) always draws attention for its twisted character and velvety stems (like a stag’s antlers) and later for its dissected foliage. Most of mine are the gold-leaf cultivar called ‘Bailtiger’ (usually referred to as Tiger Eyes). It even looks good in fall. Rhus typhina is the largest sumac on North America, so it’s another American native–though not native precisely here.

What’s that other twisted, sideways shrub by the driveway?

Likewise not in leaf yet, my 25-foot-wide, 30-year-old spike winterhazel (Corylopsis spicata), above, has character in every season, too. It’s a relative of witch hazel and Fothergilla, and when it’s in leaf you’d kind of sense that (though leaves are not a reliable way to tell who’s who among plants, I suppose).

And most of all: Where did you get all those hellebores?

My friend Charles Price was tinkering with hellebore breeding, and years ago shipped me a gift flat of some of his yellow-flowered and his “black”-flowered (very dark purple) seedlings in a plug tray, with a few stray colors thrown in for good measure. Hellebore are sexy things, and now I have every imaginable color. The oldest plants each bear 50-plus blooms. A mature hellebore—maybe 25 years old—can reach bushel-basket size I am told. Getting there!


A SIDE EFFECT of the strangely delayed bloom sequence this spring is that for the first time my annual early May Open Day didn’t feature the white clouds of five century-plus-old apples, 10 crabapples and other flowering trees and shrubs. It featured Narcissus (usually more than half-gone by now) and those Oriental hybrid hellebores Charles sent, which are usually faded and colorless by this time (that’s a slate-colored one, below). The shadbush or Amelanchier was just coming into bloom; Magnolia ‘Ballerina’ (above) was showing off, too, and the espaliered Asian pear out back, against the house–which come to think of it got as many questions as all of the above.

Bird-wise, things progressed faster than my to-do list this last week: The wood thrush is singing, mostly late day right now; the house wren is chattering on the early shift, a new arrival. The ruby-throated hummingbirds returned this week, too.

So that was my Week 6 in the garden, which was all about trying to check as many things off the list as possible, knowing some (many) would not get done. Progress, not perfection, as they say in the 12-Step world.

  • Miss any of Weeks 1-5, my reports on the active garden season of 2018 so far? They’re all gathered at this link.        
  1. Carole Clarin says:

    I’m so jealous, as always, when I visit your garden or see your photos! Looking around my garden at many of the same plants, I’m definitely not in the 5B zone, maybe 4A! In fact, even though the weather has improved, we had snow last Monday! Your photos and comments by visitors do help me to add questions I will ask when I come June 9th. Looking forward to that day-maybe I’ll bring photos too!

  2. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Your progress can be applauded. Everything looks splendid. I am sure those people had so much pretty things to look at that they didn’t even notice that your to do list was not all crossed off. Those hellebores are yummy. Plants and bloom times are all topsy turvy here too.

  3. Elaine says:

    Thank you for sharing – with us and people who had the pleasure of seeing your garden in person! I have 2 tiger eye sumacs in large pots but never envisioned they would get as large as yours. They have been happy for 2 years but should I rethink?

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Elaine. A very expert nurseryman friend grows his in a giant pot, and loves it that way. You may have to divide periodically (more plants!) but I think it’s a great choice.

  4. JON says:

    I was lucky enough to see a Luna moth & a hummingbird moth a couple of years ago. And to think I looked upon moths as boring creatures as a child!

  5. Cindy says:

    As a transplant to Florida from Michigan, I really enjoyed watching your spring garden come back to life! I miss that child-like wonder and awe that comes with this season.

  6. Kyle says:

    What is planted under your hellebores? I’m trying to find more things to add to the mix to keep the ground covered. Everything looks great!

    1. margaret says:

      The gold flowers are an Asian ephemeral called Hylomecon japonicum. There are trilliums and violets and before them were minor bulbs (snowdrops mostly) in between the clumps…and then later comesome taller foliage plants.

  7. Camilla MacLeod says:

    I have two different Celandine poppies – the larger good one and the smaller pest. I am in Binghamton N>Y.

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