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Saturday, March 2, 2024
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Dear Garden Problem Lady

The Garden website from which I ordered a “Comtesse de Bouchaud” pink Clematis in early May has just announced a delivery delay. The potted plant won’t arrive until the last week of May. The trellis is ready, but now I worry — is early June too late to plant it for the 2023 season?

You may recall that Clematis varieties are classified into three groups according to blooming time and pruning rules. Group 1 (spring bloomers), Group 2 (repeat bloomers), and Group 3 (summer or fall bloomers) – into which, like many Clematises with large flowers, your Comtesse Bouchaud falls. A member of the Jackmanii group, she will get started a few weeks late, yes, but will bloom to the end of the fall. Planting rules for all Clematises are “lots of sun” but “cool feet”.  Do plant her very deeply and provide shade for only her lower stalk and root area, sun for all the climbing parts.

We’re longtime gardeners and new to Capitol Hill, where beautiful trees surround our new home. We’ve always heard how sensational shade gardens can be. Now’s our big chance!  Can you supply any general tips and the odd planting suggestion for a truly shady lot?

Until you have observed the light at all times of day on all the garden parts of your property, wait to plant anything. Your maximum sunlight is now, in June. Divide the space into Light shade, Medium shade and Deep Shade. Early spring when trees have no leaves will offer the best light for early spring blooming bulbs and perennials such as Helleborus, Mahonia, Quince. Even the faint light in the shadiest parts of your property will work for the many perennials that tolerate deep shade, such as Solomon’s Seal, Wild Ginger, Brunnera, Hosta and Ferns. Consult flower books.

As you begin to buy and plant, know that shade gardens need less water as a general rule. For soil, remember forests. They have layers of composted leaves on top of many tree roots. To survive in a forest, flowers have to be shallow-rooted. Also, shade gardens can revel in the spectacular painted, striped and multicolored leaves of shade-loving perennials. Pulmonaria (Lungwort) have beautiful dotted leaves and blue flowers – but the best, “Sissinghurst White”, will glorify any shade garden with its stunning white flowers.

When is the best time to transplant a Hosta?

April is the best time for the big job, mostly because it’s easier on you, the gardener. Hosta plants can be heavy and unwieldy, always need plenty of water, which April can supply, transplanting traumatizes any plant, summer heat makes soil hard and dry, and you’re providing the longest time for root survival.

For information about the Capitol Hill Garden Club, visit the club website, “capitolhillgardenclub.org”. Feeling beset by gardening problems? Send them to the Problem Lady c/o the Editor, Hill Garden News. Your problems might even prove instructive to others and help them feel superior to you.  Complete anonymity is assured.  

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