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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 strongly 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!
Gardeners, who aware of the effects of climate change on their plantings, will be challenged to predict which plants will be the stars of 2019. We are lectured that 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.
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 this world.
Which plants performed best for you in 2018? Which plants are you looking forward to trying this gardening year?