Sunday, July 30, 2006

Tall superbums, granite companions

The sun is peeking through the top third of the tall white pines while the gentle morning breeze rustles the poplar tree leaves. Two ravens just coasted into the compost pile for breakfast. One already left with a piece of rock-hard French bread that was passed over by busy gardeners more intent upon a good presentation at "Daylily Days" than a tidy kitchen. It looks like a beautiful day in the making and after the late afternoon thunderstorm yesterday, the plants are sparkling clean.

I hadn't had a chance to get down into the lower shade garden for a couple days and was happy to see the Lilium superbum in bloom last night. These are a tall native lily which have well established colonies in southern New England. They can be found here and there in Vermont along the Connecticut River and some of its tributaries. It's a tall beauty reaching over 8 feet when mature. Probably the best garden collection I have seen is at the little cemetary at Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe. I haven't been there for a couple years but it used to have hundreds on display.

"My" superbums were intended to be part of a masterful garden art project which I started in 2000. Granite abounds in this part of Vermont which is good and bad depending on what your plan is. As glacial erratics, there are pieces of glacial tossed granite everywhere. If you are a farmer, this presents a problem, If you are digging a well or home foundation site, this presents a problem. If you are a gardener, you have a fine collection of excellent stone material to work with.

In the old days over 200 years ago, farmers located huge pieces of granite left by the glaciers and then sliced off pieces for foundations. They hand drilled the granite and then plugged the holes with water-saturated soft wood and waited for spring. The wood froze and expanded and in spring the pieces were broken free. Some were symmetrical and others which broke unevenly were tossed aside. I am told that in later years the wood plugs format was replaced by brass striking pins and granite shaping could take place year round.

My original plan was to drag a number of these pieces out of the woods and erect them with a tractor and chains. Plant some granite, I thought. That happened in the year 2000 when I pulled out 7 pieces and got Gail to direct the "planting" operation. The tallest was 11 feet in length before we sunk it in 3 feet. The shortest worked out to be a bit less than 5 feet tall. My plan was to grow 5 foot circles of moss around the base of each stone and then begin circles of various epimediums. My thought was that the moss would make the granite stand out and the epimediums would eventually fill in and make a colorful bed in spring and then again after Labor Day. As a backdrop to this I planted rows of Hosta 'Tall Boy', Lilium henryi and Lilium superbum. Since these all bloom in late July and on into August, the backdrop would be colorful I thought and a piece of natural garden art would be born.

Good ideas often get interrupted and this one did too. I couldn't keep up with the weeds and although the lilies and hosta grew well in the back, the deer came through and leveled them a couple years in a row. Weeds infiltrated the front part and the moss grew well but when we weeded, the weed roots picked up clumps of moss and made the plan a mess. Last summer I gave up on the idea and in haste began planting new hosta acquistions amongst the granite spires. This kind of art takes a while to mature anyway so I do have some time to develop the first plan. Maybe, maybe not. Time is precious.

This year I have worked hard to keep the deer away from the area. Although they have eaten many of my nice hosta right to the ground, regular sprayings with Tree Guard have kept them away from the Lilium superbums. My fencing project has been interupted by Daylily Days but I'll get through that in another week and the lilies should be safe. In the meantime they are spectacular. There is something about that granite that makes the lilies look stronger and more colorful. If you get a chance, stop by and take a look at the tall superbums and their granite companions.

From the mountain above Peacham Pond, where a bittern just landed by the trout pond, looking for a crayfish breakfast,

Gardening wishes, good summer days,

George Africa


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