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   THOUGHTS FROM STEVE KELLEY

OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD – JULY 12, 2019

 

  Along the roadsides, right now Elderberry is abloom – panicles of creamy white flowers smother 8-10’ tall shrubs.  Though the flowers are used to make Elderflower water for confections and cosmetics and a delicious liqueur, and the fall fruit is a favorite of birds and can be used for jellies and juices.  Still, Elderberries get no respect and are mostly considered a weed.  They sucker freely, suffer winter dieback and have a generally unkempt habit.  Though several cultivars are available, you’ll never find Elderberries taking the landscape market by storm, but in a naturalized setting, can be effective.

 

  We think of garden Phlox as midsummer bloomers, at which time they achieve star status.  A recent Phlox offering, The Fashionably Early Series, is blooming now and they are magnificent.  glossy, dark green foliage appears resistant to cover the plant.  Flower colors include white, lilac pink and light purple.  They’ve been proven performers in our gardens the last few years.

   At the nursery, Astilbe are coming into bloom – our selection – from ground-huggers to skyscrapers – is rather tantalizing. a premier plant for shade, of course, where it remains attractive In and out of bloom Astilbe can also take some direct sunlight if not let to dry out.  Personal favorites – really, you’re asking me to play favorites – might include the unusual Chocolate Shogun, whose chocolate – colored leaves need no floral complement, Delft Lace with burgundy tinged leaves and light pink flowers, Key West is a shorty with deep magenta flowers and Vision in Pink is a sturdy little plant with clear pink flowers.




OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD – JULY 1, 2019

 

For a while there, I halfway thought we were getting somewhere, gaining ground.  How foolish a thought – I should know better. Several scheduled June garden tours to the home grounds – we book these things the previous November when all thought of June madness is far from our minds – kept Arla and me in seeming perpetual motion since the last of the snow receded.  Weeds I mean to say. Would gardening be all the more enjoyable were it not for weeds?  I could imagine-what a vision, that – an aimless stroll early in the morning east down the garden path, no particular goal at hand, a clenched coffee cup (actually, for me, it’s more likely orange juice in a glass, but somehow the prospect of coffee sounds more romantic in this tale), wondering at the curious fritillaria that’s popping up in the most unusual places, absentmindedly snapping off a spent flower or two, puzzling over the intent of the squirrel – up to little good, no doubt – who scurries at my coming around the corner.  And not a weed in sight, oh happy thought.  Truth is, we’ve waged a never – ending battle – as have you as well, we’ve not being singled out – against chickweed, thistle, purslane, oxalis, knotweed, garlic mustard, clearweed, and all manner of seedlings resulting from overarching boxelder, maple (have you ever seen such huge maple seeds as this year?  What’s that about?), crabapple and elm.

Just as we round the corner and give ourselves a pat on the back for eradicating May’s crop, we avert our gaze and June has us fretting over a fresh round.  But isn’t that what gardeners are known for – fretting, fussing, primping, doting, cajoling, castigating, trussing up, cutting down. How odd it would seem to have nothing to do but revel in it all.  Who’s to say it might not be an enjoyable experience, though.



OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD – JUNE 24, 2019

I suffered a ‘touché’ moment recently.  An, I thought, busy friend asked about these breezy writings from Steve Kelley.  I wondered to him how he found time to read these musings.  Snapped he, “How do you find time to write them?”  I have no idea how you all cram so much reading into your days, but I know how I find time to pen these lines (Yes, pen them.  If you know me, you well know I’m not on speaking terms with technology). Late at night, after the day’s newspaper has been digested, and before lights out, there is often a spare moment to collect thoughts and transcribe them on paper.

I’m thinking I haven’t been keeping up to date.  I meant to write a few days ago about yet another favorite fragrant shrub – White Fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus).  Grown as a shrub or small tree, Fringetree’s chief attribute is its pure white flowers in late May, early June.  Cascades of slender, delicate panicles shimmer in the least breeze. And fragrant.  My, the fragrance is mouthwatering – a sweet spiciness. I’ve mentioned we’ve sited a Fringetree outside our back door at home, where the fragrance is carried across the back terrace. Delightful.

Look for Gray Dogwood, which is making a statement just now. Creamy white flowers cover the shrub where you can spot them colonizing roadside rights of way.  Its other season of magnificence is fall, when its foliage turns a dusky maroon.

You can smell tree Lilac long before you spot their bloom, which are abundant in late June.  The pungent, musky fragrance isn’t too pleasing to my nose.  Most folks find the flowers more attractive then noseworthy.

As kids, didn’t we delight on many a summery evening at magnificent firefly displays! Can’t imagine how – or why – we captured them in jars.  Quite a sport.  We’ve been bereft of fireflies in recent years, but just the last few weeks nighty sightings out the bedroom windows have pleased and amused us.

And dragonflies – dozens of them darting head-high across the yard have seemingly helped to keep the mosquito population on the run.  At least that’s what we hope.  Keep it up, guys.



OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD - JUNE 12, 2019

My wife accuses me of being a horrible driver – of not paying attention to the road ahead in favor of gawking at the passing scenery. I readily admit the transgression.  But I’m afraid I’m not anywhere near ready to change my stripes.  Besides, how would I find plenty to write about?

I do a lot of driving, a tiresome amount at times, it seems. And the byways provide a wealth of interest. An example at the moment – at Noerenberg gardens, the Azaleas are a riot of mouthwatering color – blush pink, rose and coral. There’s a mass of them visible to passersby – mature plants situated under stately pines.  I don’t think you’ll find a finer display outside the arboretum itself.  Azaleas are another of those shrubs that fade from view when out of bloom, but for now, the show is dazzling.

We were enjoying an icy glass of tea (or was it something stronger, I forget) on the back terrace over the weekend and were amazed at the swarms of dragonflies above our heads.  We hope they were busy consuming their quota of mosquitoes.  Other wildlife – the first firefly of the season.  Cardinals back and forth at the Three-Flowered Maple at the corner of the house.  Baby deer cavorting – chasing each other around at the edge of the weeds out back.  Humorous.  Even crows seem to be suffering a bit of spring fever – they’re acting almost as if they’ve sipped on that tea of ours.

They predicted a cool wet summer, and it’s shaping up that way – love it. A gentle rain today puts a smile on our faces and, I’m sure, the faces of many a plant that sulked during our recent spell of sultry weather.







OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD – JUNE 10, 2019

If it seems I’ve been fixated lately on fragrance in these musings, forgive me.  On second thought, no, I won’t ask for forgiveness – doesn’t spring in nature present a cornucopia of noseworthy scents?

So why not tout them?  How to escape them, even if we wanted to?

 

On either side of the entrance of our home property, a pair of venerable Honeysuckles arch over the driveway, likely at least 60 years old.  Sadly, who plants old-fashioned Honeysuckle anymore?  If it’s even available in the trade.  It’s no great shakes of a shrub and takes a back seat for much off the year. But for a few shining weeks in May, early June nothing can compare.  That delicious, sweet aroma carries me back.  And as I get even older, I find myself pleasantly carried back by a rich bank of memories quite a bit.

 

No fragrance attached to Bridalwreath Spirea, but this early June bloomer brings with it many fond associations with its graceful, pure white bowers of billows. Romantic.  Sadly, this is another shrub out of favor at the moment.  I well-remember it lining the byways of the old Highcroft estate.  Quite an attractive attraction.

 

You can love or not love Dame’s Rocket, that Phlox – like bloomer in pink, white or lavender that pops up about now without warning.  Great sweeps of it fill roadside ditches with amusement.  And then they’re spent for another year, but not before casting their seeds far and wide assuring even greater luxury to come.  I like them.






OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD - MAY 29TH, 2019
In addition to colorful pastel bloom that spring fills the air with, don't the attendant smells bring pleasant memories to the foreground!   As I walk up Kelley and Kelley's driveway, the unmistakable scent of Lily of the Valley provides a link to grandmother Kelley's garden.  Growing up, we Kelley boys lived right next door to the senior Kelleys so the opportunity to get to know them presented itself handily.  By their back door, a pastiche of Ostrich Fern, Violets and Lily of the Valley provided both a visual and an olfactory presence.

Then, of course brought on by my 2019 nose, a cascade of long ago memories - grandmother. A gentle soul, ear to ear smile, her white hair always perfectly put up (and surely done at home - not at the corner beauty parlor), her sugar cookies, the welcoming home always meticulously maintained.

Funny how one little remembrance can bring back those carefree youthful days. 





OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD - MAY 23RD, 2019

In enumerating spring-blooming trees and shrubs in this space recently, how on earth could I forget to give mention to Fothergilla ( no common name) and Exochorda (Pearlbush)? Both are at their blooming best right now.

Fothergilla sports creamy white bottlebrush - like flowers at branch ends long before leaves emerge and have a faint honey-like scent. Flowers are attractive for a couple of weeks.

Poor Pearlbush. For 50 1/2 weeks of the year it maintains a rather obscure position in the landscape, not especially showy in outline or leaf. But for a brief shining moment in late May, boy, does Pearlbush take center stage. Glistening white pearl-like buds up and down every stem followed by charming daisy-like flowers transform the dowdy old maid into a stellar beauty.

Neither of these shrubs have gained the attention I think they deserve. Well-worth looking for.

I guess it's high time to start weeding - if only the rains would cease long enough to allow us time in the garden. We remember this time of the year the millions and millions of seeds Maple and Elms pawned off on us last fall. A week ago Elms germinated, followed by Maples bothering us this week. We could start a nursery. Garlic Mustard is abloom now - best to knock it out before it goes to seed or you'll be sorry.




MAY 20TH, 2019 - OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD

Seems like we're infested with a broader range of landscape pests these days than when I was a kid so many years
ago.  Bugs have safer travel plans these days.  Hitchhiking around the world is no big deal for critters threatening entire classes of plants.  Elms are the classic one of course, they're the pester children for all that can go wrong.
But we've also seen devastation wrought on Birch, Ash, Oak, Maple, Spruce, Pine, what's next?  Well, I'll tell you.

We've recommended Magnolias for years.  There's nothing quite like their large fragrant booms seen this time of year.  Magnolia 'Merrill' was a particular favorite that we'd used frequently.  I say "was" because we've had to pull in our horns in our recommendation of Magnolias, a heart-wrenching decision.  Several years ago an ugly scale that encased Magnolis branches leading, if unchecked, to a weakening and eventual death of the plant.  A slow death, but death nonetheless.  There is a treatment, but the chemical used sounded more injurious to wildlife than we were willing to accept.  We made the decision to destroy mature Magnolias at home and at the nursery.
Sad , as there's no substitute for Magnolias.


OFF THE TOP OF MY HEAD - MAY 02, 2019

Even before spring arrives for good, we delight in spotting hints that seasons are changing.  Pussy Willows bring a smile and attract early-bird pollinators.  The chartreuse foliage of weeping willows brighten up the lowlands and, beacon - like, can be seen from afar. Isn't this the time of year that Willows are at their best?
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