IT AMAZES me that so little damage is done by the weather.
When we had 80-mile-an-hour winds, I was confident the weathercock and the purple martin house would hold, because gales were foreseen and they were put up to stay, and the weathercock has enough housing and belts and bars to sustain the lighthouse of Rhodes.
Kenneth and Larry officiated, both of them pyramid-builders by instinct, and it is a good feeling in a storm to think that the great eagle will spin all over the place but never take off, thanks to them.
But lilies and gladiolus are something else. Hail does them no more good than typhoons, and the recent combination of ice bullets and monsoons caused me anxiety. And yet no damage was done to speak of - the wood fence blew down, of course, but quite fragile flowers were no worse off, once I picked the blooms with great holes made by the hail.
'Sir Trevor Lawrence' is one of those clematis I carry on about, and the tree trunk that supported it blew over. The purple smoke bush had a young cherry tree's crown blown into it, but once the cherry was sawed out, no damage was done.
You would think big-leaf plants would suffer. The tall (though it is now only about 8 feet high) ditch grass from Italy, Arunde denax , was not even bent.
A great offender after a storm is the variegated Chinese grass, Miscanthus sinensis variegata , with white stripes against the green and a beautiful arching habit of growth.
It grows to about 9 feet with me, in a dense clump. After a wind it likes to sprawl, which is fine if you have all the space in the world. For several years I worried with it, and at last devised some 6-feet-high cylindrical cages made of steel highway mesh (the sort often used for supporting tomato plants). In April I cut this tremendous tall growth back to the ground as well as I can, and set the cylinder over the brown stubble.
The grass grows up inside, and the individual leaves arch out through the mesh, so you do not see the engineering at all. Any growth that starts up outside the cage is simply whacked off at the ground.
I planted one of those magenta-rose perennial pea vines three or four feet away and let it climb up the wire mesh, and this worked nicely since it stays a jump ahead of the rapidly growing grass. The results, by July, is a firm fountain of green and white grass sprinkled over with the sweet pea blooms, so that you think the grass has these pink flowers.
When the great summer storms come, the grass remains upright instead of flopping over a circle 15 or 20 feet in diameter.
My favorite rudbeckia is, for some unfathomable reason, never grown in gardens, and I don't think I have ever seen it except in mine or in places I sent a start.
It is R. maxima , and it has the vast merit of not looking like a rudbeckia. Its leaves are basal and gray-blue, 12 or 18 inches long. They look somewhat like elongated cabbage leaves. Off and on through the summer and early fall they send up thick gray stalks of flowers, as high as 8 feet, with clear yellow cone-flowers. I grew it mainly for the foliage, and call myself cutting out the flower stalks. This works well, since I pinch out the budding stalks in the spring and usually start forgetting about them in June. Thus the plant flowers in mid-July. Tall and slender as they are, they do not need staking, though sometimes they arch over and a big clump would sprawl its stems.
The leaves are never damaged by storms as far as I know.
The big butter burr leaves are also surprisingly weather resistant and so are the circular fat leaves of the ligularias.
The fern-leaf tansy, an indestructible herb which is not good for anything (it has now been decided) and which may be poisonous (though formerly much used for tea), has the air of a small shrub. Its deeply cut and rather heavy leaves - much heavier than carrot leaves, say - are wonderful deep green. It has done all I hoped it would beside the fish pool. Unfortunately it sprawls in a windstorm, though only 3 feet high.
It would profit from some support. Most of us dislike obvious supports for plants, especially plants in conspicuous spots. Some day I will think of just the thing, as I did for the tall grass.
The 'Celeste' fig, which had no right whatever to die this past winter, nevertheless did so to my extreme annoyance. Following my advice to others, however, I left it alone and was rewarded by two moderately vigorous shoots that did not emerge until mid-July.
Ordinarily you would expect these shoots, from a plant cut to the ground by frost, no later than late May. But this shows the wisdom of not being hasty.
In the fall I make a great show of cleaning up the grape vines, collecting any grapes that have fallen on the ground and making sure there are no old clusters left on the vines. In this way I discourage a buildup of brown rot, the fungus that causes mummified "raisins" among clusters of ripening fruit. This year, with so many rains, brown rot is much worse than usual.
We do not make wine, however, and one can eat only so many grapes, so there will be plenty for the mockingbirds, cardinals, wasps and us. This year, though, the clusters will not look flawless and professional as they did last season.
My prudent friend, who gets so much accomplished, this week planned for her new peonies.
She ordered them in June, for October delivery. She had space for a dozen, and therefore was entitled to order 15. She got 22.
"I don't think that's bad," she said. "There is legitimately room for 12, and you said I could stretch it to 15, and I stopped at 22."
With labels and stakes she wandered about until she found places to plant all 22. That will work well, unless the eucryphia tree really starts to grow, or the tamarisk, or the climbing roses or the cardoons or acanthuses.
Surely everything will sort of adjust. Gardeners always think plants set too densely will adjust Ha.
Still, sometimes they do. Then one is lost in wonder at the luxuriance of it all, and one can pretend it was all planned that way. In reality, the gardener knew he was overcrowding but hoped for the best. And, as I say, the best actually occurs about one time in 11.
Even fifth-best is good enough, in a garden, and good enough to keep most of us enchanted year after year.