I NOTICED AN odd thing about grapes this spring. It was cold, damp and overcast when the vines bloomed, but I thought nothing of it, and then weather turned to normal as the vines finished flowering.
But there are no grapes at all on 'Buffalo,' one of the best grapes for covering an arbor, while 'Steuben' is heavy with fruit. 'Buffalo' is an early grape and flowers with me a week before 'Steuben' and 'Villard Blanc.'
The bees simply did not fly while the first grape was in bloom, and as a result there is no fruit, while the later grapes are heavy.
It is well to be reminded how dependent life is on plants, and also on insects.
The summer has been dismal, you will have noticed, if you were counting on normal weather. Many tropical water lilies did not bloom until August, and with some gardners they are not blooming yet, because dealers sent plants late this year. Usually we get them June 1, but June was so cold the dealers did not send mine until June 16.
A late start, combined with a lot of rain and failure of sunshine resulted in a surprisingly slow start for the water lilies.
I am fond of 'Dauben' or Daubenyana' as it was first called when it was introduced to commerce many decades ago. It is a pale washy blue, almost white when grown in greenhouses (as it often is in the winter, for it is one of the best for enduring poor light) and in fish aquariums.
But outdoors it comes a decided, if pale, blue and the flowers reach six inches in diameter. Compared to the great standard blue varieties, it is not much to see, but its tolerance of only three or five hours of sunlight is valuable in town gardens.
Each leaf, floating on the water, bears a tiny new plant. These can be detached and grown on in small pots, and kept in aquariums over winter and set out in the pool the following June to bloom.
Gladiolus are blooming now, from bulbs planted outdoors in July. A gladiolus planted March 15 may bloom on July 1, about 105 days later. The same gladiolus planted July 2 will bloom Aug. 15, 45 days later. You would expect the later-planted corms to bloom later, and they do, but one is usually surprised to see the number of days from planting to flowering is halved.
A vine I think well of is the fleece vine, Polygonum aubertii. Its first season it grows about 20 feet. In later years it grows perhaps 40 or 50 feet. It bears racemes of off-white flowers in vast quantity in late summer and early fall, and at a distance of 30 feet or so these lose their individual identity and look like a layer of foam or fleece.
The best thing is that the foliage, which is dark green and luxuriant, but not especially ornamental, appears bug-proof.
It is a very good vine for tiny town gardens in which the ground is mainly paved with brick, and where there is some ratty half-dead weedy sort of tree. The polygonum races up and hangs down in tropical cascades. Mine, for some reason, does not seem to have any flower buds this year, but perhaps it will be later than usual, and in any case I like the effect of its dense foliage.
For many years I looked down my nose at the Virginia creepers and Boston ivies (Varieties of Parthenocissus, related to the grapes but bearing inedible food for humans, much admired by birds).
So many fine buildings have lost their architectural quality through being clad solid with these tight-clinging vines that they got a bad name.
Even the delicate arched pavilions of the old Moorish gardens at Granada were obscured by these vines, which cover everything with a uniform blanket of green.
Once in Paris, admiring the vast swings of green foliage that flung over the stone walls of the Ile de la Cite along the Seine, I went to investigate, and to my surprise the great beauty was provided by nothing more exotic than the Virginia creeper, allowed to tumble naturally.
So I realized the trouble with the vine is the way we use it -- on houses and buildings -- and not the fault of the vine. It is beautiful growing over rocks, along a shore, and it is beautiful when grown up a tree like a dismal old maple. There it grows up the trunk for 20 feet then explores the various branches, hanging down in swags.
You would not want it on a dogwood or persimmon or any delicate elegant tree of small stature, and certainly not on a young oak, which it would smother. But on some worthless old tree it can be highly ornamental.
I have a strip of lattice on the north side of my garden house, but I did not want any heavy vine there that would cut out light and air.
The large old trunk of a moribund Norway maple grows a foot or two outside this lattice, and I planted a Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) at the base of the trunk.It clings tenaciously to the bark, and you see this luxuriant growth through the lattice, hardly aware it is on the tree, not the wooden slats. In this way I have the effect of a luxuriant vine, while still having air and light and a view of the lily pool through the summer house.
On the east side (this great structure is 8 feet square, by the way) I wondered what to grow on the lattice that would not cut out the morning light too much. It is totally overhung by the wretched branches of the wretched maple. For reasons not now clear to me I planted a cucumber. As you know, cucumbers admire manure heaps in blazing sun, and are not really adapted to bone-dry root-ridden dust beneath a Norway maple in heavy shade.
I took out a couple of bricks of the paving, planted the cucumber seed, resigned myself to watering it a good bit, and may now say triumphantly I have picked my third excellent cucumber. I do not know why gardners like to do impossible and foolish things.