Taking Stock of 2018

June Delpiniums

Part of the preparations for updating the Avant Gardens 2019 plant list is to archive the gazillions of garden photographs taken and update the website with new and better images. This cataloging of images reminded me of the star performers of 2018, and regrettably, which plants had a less than stellar year.

Planted in a sunny warm spot at the base of a wall, Acanthus hungaricus

Now one thing always holds true. You can’t rely on any particular weather pattern here in southern New England.   Every year (every season!) challenges us with a totally different set of circumstances, and 2018 was the most challenging gardening year that I can recall. Drastic swings in winter temperatures are the new normal…we began with an arctic blast with January’s arrival followed by 6 weeks of typical winter weather. The last week of February brought surprising warmth and it was a terrible tease… the dusk to dawn thermometers remained above freezing for 7 nights in a row. 

March Blizzard with Hamamelis (Witchhazel)

March weather reminded us why some New Englanders vacate to warmer climates until May….3 nor’easters blew in during the first 2 weeks, and this made spring seem so very far away. Sunshine and a gradual warming trend finally arrived in May, continued for a few weeks, and then summer heat and humidity settled in.

Dwarf Bearded Iris ‘Pastel Charm’ in May

Our garden, late spring.

This is what I remember about last summer…lots of heat and humidity but no rain to speak of…oh wait… on Aug. 4th we had a half inch of precipitation. Yes, I do know folks in much of the northeast had record rainfall, but during July and August the ocean fronts pushed any rainfall off of Cape Cod, the MA South Coast and coastal Rhode Island to the northwest. Our high humidity finally turned to almost daily precipitation in September and October, and then a killing frost finally pulled the curtain just before Halloween arrived.

it’s raining at last…August rainfall is wonderful!

So how did various plants in the garden fare with this irrational weather pattern? Well this was the first year the succulent planters, which in previous years have sung Hallelujah gloriously in September, sadly cried “Enough wet air, already!” long before the first frost arrived. The hardy succulents seemed worse for wear from the constant humidity even when they inhabited the leanest, well drained spots in the garden. On the other hand, any plant with tropical origins prospered in 2018…the Cannas, Caladium and Colocasia were saying “Hey baby!” without any coddling on our part.

Black Colocasia, Caladium and Variegated St. Augustine grass

Magnolia macrophylla blossom

Clethra barbinervis in flower

Trees and shrubs always seem to persevere despite the weather, but I know they appreciated the rebound of precipitation our wet autumn provided.The standouts in 2018: I continue to be impressed with Magnolia macrophylla and Clethra barbinervis as extraordinary trees for our landscapes.

Honey bee visiting Pycnanthemum muticum

Calamintha nepeta

Persicaria ‘Firetails’ in the August border,

Detail of Persicaria ‘Firetails’

A few always stellar perennials stood out: Pycnanthemum muticum, flourished and bloomed for months, providing a food source for our honeybees and other pollinators as well. Aralia ‘Sun King’ just kept looking better and better into the fall. Calamintha nepeta ssp nepeta and Persicaria ‘Fire Tails’ bloomed incessantly from mid-July to October. Tricyrtis ‘Autumn Glow’s handsome variegated leaves held up beautifully in the shade garden, and its display of lavender orchid like flowers bloomed for 8 weeks beginning in August. The Shrub Mints, Leucosceptrum ‘Golden Angel’ and ‘Mountain Madness’ , maintained their good looking foliage all summer and then their autumn flower spikes provided a feast for our bees!

Aralia ‘Sun King’

Tricyrtis ‘Autumn Glow’…in bloom from August to October.

Gardeners, aware of the effects of climate change on their plantings, will be challenged to predict which plants will be the stars of 2019. Native plants are always a good bet but don’t kid yourself into thinking that climate change isn’t affecting them as well.  One thing that is constant: plants perform better when good gardening practices are in place. Select the right plant for your soil conditions, amend your soil with compost, mulch newly planted areas to retain moisture and limit weeds, use soaker hoses to irrigate and provide a habitat for beneficial insects. 

A yellow intersectional peony on a late spring evening.

Each year is different, and gardeners are optimists. There’s no telling what 2019 will bring, but I’m sure we will experience pure bliss when we will sit in our gardens on a late spring evening, inhale, and feel that at this moment all is right in the world.

Which plants performed best for you in 2018? Which plants are you looking forward to trying this gardening year?

11 thoughts on “Taking Stock of 2018”

  1. Great start-to-the-year blog, Katharine. I am ready for snow and am hoping it doesn’t come in April at this point. My plants did better than I might have thought. But I did water more than usual. Several small rhodies died, lost a clematis or two. Bloom times were shorter and annuals often struggled to take hold. Weird year for sure…..PS I love the sorting filters for plant selection and would miss them. I also love a color sort as I am often looking for a color to add in perennials.

  2. Thank you Carole!
    You can also do a color sort at the same time (i didn’t include that in the example).
    At the bottom of the drop down menu there is a color sort. Don’t forget to reselect your all your criteria for new sorts.

  3. Thanks! for all of the great inspiration you share in your blog posts. Love the sort feature as I am often seeking to match the growing conditions and style preferences of my clients with a plant which they not only will love the look of, but which will also thrive!

  4. Love this blog post! Here in the Baltimore area, we are still floundering after getting over 70 inches of rain in 2018–breaking all previous records, and not in a good way. My Bolivian begonias, usually so reliable in containers, simply turned up their toes and died. Next year, it will probably be droughts, but who knows? I especially appreciate any comments about deer resistance, because they are a plague in my neighborhood and I am tire of spending a fortune on repellents. Am trying to learn to love ornamental grasses (sigh) and to stop buying new daylillies, however gorgeous they may look.

  5. Are you still getting above average precipitation, Kay? Here in MA our water tables are high from the Sept-Dec. rain, and if we do get a fair amount of snowmelt followed by a very wet spring, we will have a situation for sure. And deer! Gardeners in our area have finally realized that their gardens are only safe with an 8′ deer fence.

  6. Without a hard frost yet, the dandelions, chrysanthemums, witch hazel, azalea, iris, and roses are still blooming a little. Here in southern VA we had double the annual rainfall, mostly mild cloudy weather, and a sudden 10-inch snowfall in early Dec, which is our usual snow quota for the entire winter. Climate change here is predicted to be wetter and cooler. There was too much rain for a good edible garden last year, so better luck for the 2019 growing season ahead, y’all.

  7. I so enjoy your blogs and your plants and your gardens. Have a question: Why do my berries on my Aronia Brilliantissima dry out? It is planted in a corner of my house that receives more than 6 hours of sun, is protected and is well watered. It is a very hot spot, as faces south in full sun. Flowers and foliage are fine. I had hoped to look out my window in the winter and view red berries like in one of your blogs.

  8. OK here goes ~ Dendranthe./Chrysanthemum ‘Sheffield’ grew
    huge and flowered blowzy, profusely Sept/Oct (I.. Schizachyrium ‘Standing Ovation’ deserves just that, sweet small colorful. (NI.
    All the salvias ‘Wendy’s’, ‘Van Hout’, ‘Kobalt’ delivered til frost.(NI.
    And last but not least Lamium m. ‘Checquers’ filled in a very shady, drier spot where the grass won’t grow, each plant being divided at planting then doubling in 4 months ! (I.
    I’m waiting on Anemone ‘Wild Swan’ to see if second year is less of a disappointment flower wise. (I.
    As always, Avant = top notch plants at the get go !
    And if you can visit, wow, what an inspirational, loved ‘nursery’.
    ( I. = irrigation NI. = no irrigation ) zone 6 Boston area

  9. Thanks, Nancy Hudson. My guess is that despite your additional watering, the sun is a bit strong where you are growing the Aronia and the fruits won’t last. Aronia actually grows well in rather wet soil. The picture I had as our December image was taken in mid-late December. By late January the fruit had shriveled. I’ll ask about to see if there could possibly another reason for the fruit to dessicate early.

  10. Thanks, Colleen, for your comments and thumb’s up. The Salvia are all strong performers for us as well especially lat summer through frost. the Chrysanthemum ‘Sheffield’ is a fave, since it pleases our honeybees in October! The ‘Swan’ series Anemones have only been available in recent years here in the US. A newer introduction ‘Dreaming Swan’ put on more of a show for us last year than ‘Wild Swan’, but every year’s weather patterns are different and thus plant performance.

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