Roses have rarely been worse than this past summer in gardens where no spraying is done. The endless rains and daily muggs have inspired every fungal enemy of the rose to flourish, and even 'Old Blush,' the pink China, has behaved poorly.
Of course, in Washington we live in a forest. Half the city's trees could be removed with excelled effect. I know of hardly any garden that is not at least half-shady, and yet we persist in wanting plants that flourish in full sun. Usually we squeak by, trimming branches out of wretched Norway maples to let some sun in, but it's an uphill fight.
There is no problem, of course, if the gardener is content with azaleas, hollies, andromedas, barrenworts, hostas, yews, ivies, caladiums, impatiens, dogwoods and all the other plants that flourish in half-shade, and there is no question a very beautiful garden can be made with them alone.
Roses, peonies, irises, day lilies, water lilies, to mention only a handful of favorite flowers, all like full sun, and while they can be coaxed to bloom in our forest, they protest by not doing nearly as well as they would with more sunlight.
Many clematis now show their second flush of blooms, following the great displays of May; and this may be the point to warn that no plant is going to be in full bloom for very many days of the year. Many clematis will bloom again in the fall, so will many day lilies, so will many climbing roses; but while it is pleasant to see these flowers, we need not expect anything like to spring bounty.
At the moment, Wright's viburnum (V. wrightii) is bearing its cluster of crimson berries against dark leaves, which soon will turn crimson themselves. Usually the fruit is gone before the leaves turn, so I do not count on crimson against crimson.
The double-file viburnums sometime fruit, sometimes not, despite their lavish horizontal spreads of white blooms in early May or late April. Far better for the showiness of its berries is V. setigerum, which in sunny spots is quite loaded down in September.
I have saved seeds from Akebia quinata, a vine of only moderate interest (which will fling itself all over other shrubs, to their great handicap, if allowed to) and will gladly send them to the few who are likely to want such a vine.
It's been mentioned before, but readers are kindly asked not to address questions about gardening to this column. Usually it is impossible to answer in any intelligent or worthwhile way without knowing in detail what the problem is; and even if I were far more knowledgeable that I am, time seems to run out; and I go through a good bit of agony at the inquiries I have neither the knowledge nor the time to answer. Our admirable garden editor, Tom Stevenson, will try to find the answers to readers' gardening questions, and they should be addressed to him.
People are often interested to know why a plant dies. It might be theoretically interesting, but I have never worried about it. The usual cause is being crowded out (with me, at least); other standard angels of mortality are gross shade, competition from tree roots, lack of water, overdose of fertilizer, strangulation by bindweed and Acts of God.
Also, I notice that gardeners sometimes simply do not like to looks of their gardens; and I think it must be because something or other died, when the true offender is not a dead plant but a failure of the basic design to satisfy the gardener.
The merits of wild nature and informal design are largely lost on me. I always marveled at designers -- such as Capability Borwn -- who, at vast expense, converted half the gardens of England to common fields. Chinese paintings of wild landscapes are so beautiful that anybody might be forgiven for being seduced by them, and some Japanese gardens are very beautiful without a straight line in them. They are few and rare; possibly beauty always is rare. Cypress Gardens, out from Charleston in the Carolina Low Country, is a wonderful (and excessively rare) example of informal gardening that all must admire. In general, geometry is a good thing for the gardener. Wide walks (few of them), good walls or fences, or boundaries of handosme shrubs, a fish pool as large as possible, a serviceable terrace and arbor of grapes, and seasonal bursts of glory from spring bulbs, the best handful of perennials, and great attention to foliage contrasts and masses -- these are the only elements I halfway comprehend. Attention to them should please most gardeners more than they are usually pleased.