Chesterton Tribune

July sun reveals gardener's mistakes

Back to Front Page





July is for .... taking stock of the mature garden.

Translation: what have I done wrong, how can I fix it and avoid this in the future.

In my case, some of my earlier plantings are starting to reach mature heights and, as usual, I’ve planted too closely. With perennials, this sometimes can work and even reduce maintenance by blocking sunlight that would germinate many weed seeds, but I’m talking shrubs.

For some unknown reason I planted a ‘Rhinegold’ arborvitae, a fluffy choice chartreuse evergreen that will bend to the ground in wet snow and pop back up unhurt when it melts, next to three -- count ‘em -- three red dwarf Japanese barberry bushes, an ‘Anthony Waterer’ spirea bush and a shrub viburnum trained as a tree.

What must I have been thinking?

All those roots are trying to suck up the same nutrients, competing for what little water is available this year as well. Something’s got to go, but what?

That’s easy. The 4-foot ‘Rhinegold’ is by far the best performer and most unusual, so it’s staying put. The spirea, while nice, is common and readily replaceable. Out of here. Same with the barberries; they easily can be moved, albiet gingerly because of the thorns.

The viburnum had a growth spurt this year and has turned out to be very special, its attractive fuzzy green leaves forming a rounded mound 55-inches across crowned by white spring flowers, all suspended 36 inches above the ground atop a strong single trunk.

I’m toying with the idea of when I take out the spirea, swinging the viburnum back about 24 inches to fill that space. If I do it right, I might be able to leave some of the viburnum roots in place. I’d attempt this in the fall when the transplant would be assured greater success.

Making these decisions is only half the equation; what do I put in the vacated spaces? The perennials scattered throughout the yard that are overcrowded and need to be thinned. And if you twisted my arm, I just might be convinced to buy something new.

A nifty new plant that is blooming for me for the first time is heuchera or coral bells ‘Cherries Jubilee’. Its burgundy leaves are pleasing enough but the real show is the dainty coral-red flowers dangling along 17-inch stalks. I used them with pink astilbe as filler in a large CHS graduation open-house arrangement I made for my twin nieces Katie and Sarah.

Describing color is a difficult thing because one person’s lilac (light pinkish purple) is another person’s mauve (purplish rose) and yet another’s lavender (pale reddish violet).

The Plant Delights Nursery catalog uses a specific numerical color designation for many of its flowers. If I recall correctly, this is the Royal Horticultural Society color chart. When describing verbenas, pinkish lavender ‘Greystone Daphne’ is RHS 74B, bright pink ‘Fiesta’ is RHS 57A and light lavender ‘Mystic’ is RHS 87C.

All I know is my pretty ‘Sisters’ daylily that just began blooming is a very pale shade of Dutch Boy H-1-1 (216 B) Pretty Poppies.

Breaking news! Bev Stegeman of rural Chesterton, well-known in area hosta circles, has hybridized a new cultivar that likely will be on the market in early 2004. She started hybridizing in 1996, the first year growing 99 seedlings of which about 10 promising ones have been grown on for further evaluation.

Bev’s first introduction is ‘Skylight,’ named because she thought it was the color of a bright blue sky. The plant has some hosta ‘Dorothy Benedict,’ montana macrophylla and possibly ‘Blue Vision’ genes. Bev nicknamed ‘Skylight’s’ unregistered mother or pod parent plant ‘Space Station’ because the leaves held themselves out horizontally like landing pods for space ships.

‘Skylight’ forms a neat 36 inch-wide clump of good-substanced leaves with prominent veining and puckering. The flowers are a very pale lavender. ‘Skylight’ babies are being tissue cultured in test tubes in Ohio for later catalog sale and probably locally; no price has been set.

Bev has one other seedling, a very puckered ruffled green, that she’s considering registering. For her, “The personal satisfaction comes from sharing the variety and beauty of hostas with others and seeing them become ‘hooked’, too.”

Quite an accomplishment. And I was thrilled when I was weeding recently just to find a ‘Big Daddy’ hosta seedling that self-sowed. Bev must be deservedly proud.

My cousin Carole from Granger and I recently were talking about our shared garden problem -- an explosion of chipmunks or ground squirrels.

Carole said they’ve live-trapped nine and let them loose at a creek. Take mine, please. The chipmunks, who eat breakfast with the birds under the feeder, are making holes everywhere and causing air pockets under plants, disrupting their root systems, especially in this mini-drought where even Sunday’s surprise rain skipped over our house.

Speaking of birds, late May and June were especially rewarding here.

Last year’s indigo bunting, a bright all-blue finch, returned for a few brief feeder sightings, while new to the yard was the brown-headed cowbird, a small blackbird. Hearing the old adage that if you cut an orange in half and put them out baltimore orioles will follow, we tried it and 20 minutes later a brilliant orange/black male did just that. The duller female came days later, but in this heat the oranges go uneaten and the bunting and orioles are MIA.

Bird books are a riot. One tells us the cowbird says “weee-titi” and “glug-glug-glee.” Can a bird really say glug? Or chupity? Whatever does zhilp sound like? The other day a bluejay chirped three times and a bluejay in the next tree chirped four times; it was a pleasant sound, and that’s all I needed to know.

It’s been like Wild Kingdom lately. Friday I saw a huge heron standing at the edge of a pond on County Road 550N just west of Meridian Road, and Sunday a coyote ran across U.S. 20 as we approached Michigan City. Saturday I found my first Japanese beetle in the rose garden, which responded amazingly from early June’s severe pruning and is exploding with color and fragrance (and still a little black spot).

Gardeners who really got it right will have their beds and borders on display July 6 and 7 for the Crown Point Garden Walk. Six homes in and around the city will be showcased. Visit www.cpgardenclub. com for details. The $6 tickets, which include a detailed map, can be purchased at any of the participating homes or at Hubinger’s, The Artful Garden or Cynthia’s Cafe, the latter a fine eatery on the Crown Point square.

On the garden walk will be a picnic deck overlooking a wooded ravine, a garden pond on a country farm, dense woods reclaimed for shade beds, a garden path to a pond with waterfalls, and a private backyard retreat.

July 13 and 14 the Miller Garden Club hosts its Secret Gardens walk, the theme this year Blooms, Lagoons and Sandy Dunes. Tickets are $6 in advance and $7 the day of the event, which begins at the aquatorium in Marquette Park. Visit or phone 938-8532 for more information.

Garden walks are sort of good news, bad news. You either get really good ideas that will solve problems in your own yard, or you want to go home and bulldoze the whole thing and just start over. Either way, it’s $6 well spent.


Posted 7/2/2002